Keeping Workforce Safe and Businesses Running in the Next Normal

WAF Gurus WAFinar 24

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, is one of the biggest health and humanitarian crisis of 21st century. It has placed a significant burden on global health and economic well-being, an estimated 2.7 billion people, or more than four out of five workers in the global workforce have been affected by the lockdown and stay-at-home measures.

Businesses and government leaders have been challenged to both respond to the crisis quickly and rethink their work strategies in real time.

The first priority for most organizations the world over, has been crisis response and emphasizing health, safety, essential services and the virtualization of work and education.

Now, as organizations begin to emerge from this response phase, leaders are focusing on the next set of challenges as they plan for the recovery.

To discuss these concerns, World Auto Forum organized a webinar (or a WAFINAR as they call it) on Thursday 19th November, 2021 and called experts from relevant fields to express their viewpoints.

The panel comprised Capt. Pranav Prasoon Thakur, Head of HR, Renault India; Ketan Krishna Head of Human Resources, RentoMojo; Dr Mohan Ravuru, Director of Medical & Scientific Affairs, Abbott Rapid Diagnostics; Sunil Mehra, General Manager, Abbott Rapid Diagnostics; Manmohan Malik, Group Head – Human Resources & Industrial Relations; Orix India and Anuj Guglani, CEO at World Auto Forum & Senior Partner WAF Ventures.


Anuj Guglani introduced the scope of the WAFINAR by throwing open some pertinent and relevant questions that need to be addressed in the workplace in current times. As things have begun to open up, can we afford to go back to ‘Old Normal’ from the ‘New Normal’? Is there a ‘Next Normal’ we need to adopt? Is double vaccination enough to stop the Corona virus? Do high antibodies ensure one can lower the mask? What are the precautions in the ‘New Normal’ to ensure the workforce stays safe and business is better than ‘Usual’?

How do the aforementioned points harmonise with your organisation’s culture, ethos and line of work?

This volley of questions set the ball rolling for the panelists to offer their viewpoints.

Dr. Mohan stated that as the COVID-19 pandemic enters the 3rd calendar year, there is hope on the horizon, in the form of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines which offer the potential for disease suppression into an endemic state and possibly return to pre-pandemic normalcy over time.

Although the vaccines have reduced the severity of the disease and hospitalizations significantly, the virus is unlikely to be completely eradicated and it is likely to persist in several regions, resulting in small outbreaks and result in hotspots from time to time or seasonally. As more people get vaccinated, there may be relatively higher number of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infections that could reach the workplace from the community or vice versa.

Furthermore, vaccinated individuals could lose antibodies over time (waning immunity) and become susceptible to re-infection. The SARS-CoV-2 can survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 80 hours. Automotive industry and manufacturing sector represent a relatively higher risk work environment.

As the world struggles to scale up vaccination in the face of new waves and variants, continued emphasis on testing could help limit infection without recourse to costly lockdown.  Testing is the first line of defense against the pandemic and will continue to play an important role in identifying the infectious, infected and susceptible individuals and helps in keeping the workplace safe, as the disease heads towards endemicity.

Testing softens the trade-off between health and economy by infusing greater confidence in people to return to work and helps companies engage in economic activity.

Sunil Mehra spoke about the molecular speed testing in which you can get the report within minutes and this is being done at the entry points of airports. The standard and reliability of this test is at par with the RTPCR and there comes a kit for this which can be self-administered and it is a great way to test your teams. There are case studies of several manufacturers, companies and factories that have done this and greatly benefitted and work in those places now carries on smoothly.

Capt. Pranav Prasoon Thakur, who has served in the Indian Army, elucidated two prime tenets- fortitude and resilience, which came to the rescue of work forces. Their vaccination drive was carried out successfully and they have tie ups with centres for testing if and when required for any employee. Their focus has been on not just the physical but also the mental health of their task force.

Manmohan Malik spoke of the Covid crisis as an event with severe consequences but with the researches in the medical field and with the vaccines out now, he felt a safety net has got created. He commented the new normal that was thought to be not normal until some time back, has become highly adaptive in its nature by now and organizations are now investigating whether the ways of operating that have served them well in the past, are a fit for the future or not. He also felt that until in the long run efficacy of the vaccines is proven, there continues to be a risk of infection and the protective practices must be continued. Vaccination is the key and without vaccination, it’s like going to the deeper end of the pool without knowing how to swim.

At the workplaces, he felt that empathy, collaboration, flexibility, blended workforce, upskilling, transparency in communication and different measures of safety and engagement which are crucial to usher us into the ‘new order and next normal’, should be the guiding principles. He also cited the case of car drivers who can’t possibly work from home and need good protection against the Corona virus. To take care of this, ORIX ran vaccination drives and mental wellness programs across the country for employee and driver population as also credited salaries for all employees and drivers well in advance and ensured to give out increments and bonuses as their commitment towards the well-being of the employees

Ketan Krishna spoke of how in his organization it is important to safeguard their teams as they work in the field. Since they can’t really work from home, their inspection and testing were of paramount importance. He drew an analogy of the vaccination as a safeguard against the virus like that of a seatbelt to protect yourself from a car accident. A seat belt only gives a certain level of protection and can save you from major injuries but doesn’t imply that you get careless and reckless while driving.

Anuj Guglani summed it all up by noting that the auto industry has indeed done a stellar job when it came to vaccination drives for their employees, teams and extended ecosystem but a lot more needs to be done in the field of testing.

More regular and periodic testing needs to be done as people rejoin work after festive celebrations and exposure to crowded places. Anuj felt that testing should be done using procedures that are simple, reliable, accurate and preferably with DIY kits.

He is of the opinion that while we have won the war on the vaccination front, we cannot let our guard down on the testing front, especially now after things have opened up and crowds are teeming and pouring out.

Compiled by Kiran Misra