As we witness the unyielding increase in infections across the world, the impact of the COVID-19 virus may hinder our ability to support the countries achieve the Global Goals. While it dealt a blow since early February in China, most were not aware of the Ides of March exacerbating the situation across the world.
Yet in such times one cannot give up. We took on the challenge having imbibed the lessons from our colleagues in the China Country Office who had to endure the first wave of the virus, from early January. We ramped up our business continuity plans across all 24 UNDP Country Offices, by adding a pandemic scenario that could upend our regular routine. With a plan in hand, we stress-tested all our Country Offices, to reconfirm our ability to operate remotely.
Anticipating a longer duration of “physical distancing” we streamlined business processes and simultaneously began boosting the use of technology across all programme units and staff. This was vital to ensure a seamless “work away from office” arrangement.
For some parts of the population, being locked down, means not being able to do their work. However, for UNDP colleagues it meant taking their office home. For some, work from home may sound comforting and an opportunity to rearrange the day. Grand plans may have included an opportunity to whip up a gourmet meal or do laundry that was piling, but reality sinks in quickly. Home WiFi required an upgrade; finding a quiet space for the conference calls or trying to share space with a spouse and children already into virtual modes for days now, became challenging. For others, especially who live alone in a foreign country, it meant increased isolation, and being cooped up in a small studio where bedroom is also a kitchen, office, gym, and living room.
We assumed our workforce was technologically advanced given the daily use of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc. Yet, some of them were skittish about doing it all alone at home. No more IT helpdesk to race to the rescue, to set up Zoom meetings, and seamlessly use Microsoft Teams to collaborate. So, we organized training sessions before moving to work from home scenarios. Our Business Continuity Support kit that offers a wide array of applications are helpful for beginners and tech gurus alike. Others learnt by doing.
Now, our Offices are conducting meetings with both internal and external clients on the Zoom platform. In Lao PDR, we organized a debrief session with government partners in Vientiane, auditors based in India, and UNDP staff at their homes in different parts of the capital, Vientiane.
Taking a cue from this, we are extending the services of our corporate solution providers like Zoom, to national partners, so that they can enhance their business continuity plans. And, learning is everywhere. We managed to create our Conference call “Bingo” with snippets from the virtual conference experiences in the last few days.
The backbone of UNDP in the Asia-Pacific region, that allows us to remain ‘open for business’ and maintains oversight, is the support of our Global Shared Services Center (GSSC) in Kuala Lumpur. Three years ago, we made a deliberate decision to shift transactional financial services from our 24 Country Offices to GSSC. While there was much cognitive dissonance in the early days of this transition, in hindsight, it is one of the most critical transformational changes that we made in our organization.
The assured services provision from the GSSC team, based in Kuala Lumpur and Copenhagen ensured that there was no slack in our ability to continue with “business as usual.” When situations turned critical in some countries in recent days, we had plug and play scenarios, without loss of time. For example, we processed salary payments personnel in the face of a lockdown in 3 hours, and in another instance, shifted payments to electronic mode within three-days. Now, we are scoping out more transactional service lines that can be performed from offshore locations to reduce the stress on our Country Offices.
The introduction of DocuSign for digital signatures across Country Offices, by the Bangkok Regional Hub last year proved to be a fortunate stroke of serendipity and ensured that our move to the digital sphere was seamless. Perhaps, it helped that we had quite a few champions across our Offices who found splendor and substance in technology, making the move less irksome!
We could be hunkered down away from the work for more weeks or months. Watch this space to know how we can make that time count.
Here's our Zoom Bingo from a few weeks of working remotely. Let us know your favourite Zoom Bingo phrases in the comments below.