Skype is continuously ringing as I’m on a call on MS Teams with 15 other people trying to speak one by one from different locations. People are sharing the screen while others are making comments and notes. The meeting scribe is taking the notes live in Trello with everybody capturing the live data as it’s being populated. When the meeting is over, the minutes of the meeting are available for everybody to review and sign online instantly. And once we are done, of course, I have some missed calls on skype to deal with!
While it might take a bit of time till the economy and specifically the oil and gas sector can be up and running again, the most significant impact COVID – 19 could have on our industry is in the way our companies will operate in the future.
It wasn’t that long ago when we all had to sit around a conference table in a meeting room which had to be booked in advance, making sure the room had all requirements of the meeting including a projector and the right lighting to make our model review possible.
Yes, COVID-19 will change the way we work, our previous “norm”, our work practices and the way we used to set up our teams and projects.
Oil and gas industry in comparison with IT, Finance and other sectors has been lazy and not very proactive when it comes to adapting to the new era of the digital world and communication revolution.
With other sectors taking the lead in implementing new tools, apps and digital solutions to maximise the flexibility of working while improving efficiency, our industry has been too loyal to 9-5 work and traditional office environments.
For our industry, many factors have contributed to this passive attitude towards change, including the nature of our work, which needs collaboration from large teams formed by many designers/engineers/managers, etc., at the same time.
Also, we use specialised software with expensive licences on a day to day basis, which has not necessarily been developed to operate over the network licences and remote connections.
But when the rapid spread of COVID -19 triggered the necessity of working from home (WFH), we had to go the extra mile and make up for what we didn’t manage to achieve when we should have, in a couple of weeks, if not, overnight.
But what exactly is the COVID – 19 lockdown period teaching us?
Which attributes will change in our “norm” to form the new way of working?
I believe trust will be our main takeaway from this situation.
Organisations, managers and those who are in leadership roles are learning to trust employees at a different level. They are learning to manage their teams based on production-driven performance rather than physical presence in the office and having the right thing on their screens!
On the other side, employees are learning to be more independent and self-managed, with minimum need to be supervised directly.
This, on its own, will have a significant positive psychological impact on teamwork and individual satisfaction for a persons’ achievements.
A new way of working
Even though Digitalisation has been at the top of the priority list for every single operator and EPC contractor for at least the last five years; when it comes to practice, oil and gas companies are well behind their rivals in finance, IT and management consultancy sectors.
With lessons learned from this period, having large offices with a massive cost for office moves, utilities, etc. will be pointless.
So when COVID-19 is done with us, oil and gas companies will be thinking seriously about reducing both Opex and Capex with maximising the remote working concept.
Office spaces can be significantly reduced with more employees being given the option to work remotely and perhaps attend the office only when they are occasionally required. Hot desks which we used to have for only a handful of them and were for visitors on each task force, will outnumber permanent desks and allocated rooms.
With the WFH concept being enforced around the world for the last month, it didn’t take long for IT infrastructure of companies to raise the alarm and show signs of being overstretched due to the number of users trying to connect remotely. This has been worse for the users who had to use specific software, mainly 3D modelling and other graphical applications like E3D/PDMS.
This also happened for main global communication applications like Skype, with users starting to experience low-speed connections, low quality of voice and video, and repetitive disconnections.
So, for sure, this will be a big-ticket for both global communication software developers as well as individual companies to improve their network infrastructure and IT capabilities.
If any changes to the way we use to communicate and manage our workflows, it will only be an improvement.
The meetings and discussions will be in the form of more efficient conference calls around specific subjects and resulting in a tangible outcome.
New apps and tools will be merged even more into our day to day operation with all aiming towards more transparency and visibility.
Resources will be able to work remotely for most of the week without the hassle of commuting long distances to work.
Collaborating tools and cloud-based solutions will be integrated even more into our work practices facilitating sharing information and data.
To sum up, oil and gas companies will have a very valuable takeaway from the painful period of coronavirus. A fast-forward in the way the sector would have upgraded itself, similar to what resulted in forming Fintech companies in the Finance sector.
However, the current low oil price might stay long enough to slow down this process of adaptation. The $20 per barrel price won’t give companies the flexibility required to try and expand their infrastructure and implement the changes they will be learning soon. On the contrary, this will drive the sector towards further cost cuttings and possible layoffs; something which we all experienced in 2015 for a couple of years.
We have to be patient to see the market bouncing back again, this time with valuable lessons learned and a fresh and smarter way of working.