By Adam Livermore and Thomas Zhang, Vietnam Briefing
“The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing businesses to rethink efficient strategies for remote work. Businesses now have to rely on digital infrastructure to keep their systems up to date, while managing an increasing number of employees working from home. We highlight some guidelines that businesses can adopt as businesses transition for remote work.”
With the current outbreak of COVID-19 throughout the globe, businesses have to consider how to effectively utilize their employees under the situation where physical contact between individuals is being restricted to a very high degree.
The gathering of large numbers of staff in offices should be avoided as much as possible, both in terms of infection risks, as well as because many staff have to rely on heavily restricted public transport to reach the office. It is in public environments where the risk of infection is highest. Your business needs to mitigate against having staff travel, if at all possible, during this time.
Business Through Digital Means
In short, most options for the standard operation of businesses using traditional methodologies are temporarily closed. The options that remain open rely on “remote” operations. There are of course other dangers and problems relating to over-reliance on digital communications, particularly for organizations that have not put in place a robust Business Continuity Plan (BCP).
In this article, we outline some options and advice that specifically relate to the Vietnamese business environment.
For the forthcoming weeks, companies will need to rely on the corporate digital infrastructure that they have already put in place and supplement it with the other non-corporate infrastructure that exists in Vietnam while being aware of the limitations and weaknesses of these public channels.
Digital and Cloud Platforms
For well-prepared companies, remote working need not be too much of a hindrance in the short-term. To take our firm as an example, our employees have laptops and are working from home. The company utilizes the MS O365 platform quite comprehensively, and our employees can maintain constant contact with each other via this corporate platform.
All the documents our employees need for the implementation of their work are available to them on Sharepoint Online and can be shared as necessary. Our ERP and CRM are remotely accessible. Data transmitted between company computers are being utilized at home and our servers are encrypted prior to transmission.
There is sometimes a slowdown in the transmission of data because employees have to utilize their home Internet connections, but this does not have a serious effect. For example, we have held conference calls on MS Teams between team members in various locations (including one in China) with sufficient audio functionality.
But for less well-prepared companies, some problems can be predicted. If your company is not utilizing a robust corporate tool, such as MS Teams or Skype for Business (also known as Lync), intra-company communications may have to rely on traditional telephone, corporate email, or less secure public channels, such as Zalo, Zoom or Facebook messenger.
If your corporate email server is hosted in your company’s HQ abroad, you may find that employees working from home are struggling to send or receive emails with large attachments. This is a common problem seen when transmitting data due to the congestion at international exits. Many companies circumnavigate this problem by setting up VPN-like structures between their home offices and overseas offices; however, when employees are working from home – these contingency plans no longer function effectively.
For client-facing or supplier-facing staff, the impact on operations because of the inability of these employees to physically meet their customers or vendors needs to be mitigated. If your company has robust corporate tools, such as MS O365 at its immediate disposal, you may consider inviting your clients/suppliers to communicate with you through those channels as an “external user”.
If you don’t have such channels immediately at your disposal, maybe they do, and you can organize for your key staff to be added into their networks. Such coordination requires time to implement so please arrange for some lead-time for this to be facilitated.
Remote Working Guidelines
We can assume that there will be some acute short-term problems for companies with operations in Vietnam. Here are some simple guidelines that can be followed to mitigate the effects:
Ensure your IT staff (both overseas and in Vietnam) are available to deal with connectivity and other related issues that arise. With employees working remotely, more problems can be expected to arise. Consider paying IT resources extra to ensure they are working on weekends or are available on call if there is an issue.
If you have corporate communication tools that can be used effectively in Vietnam, ensure your Vietnam-based staff have sufficient guidance to use them and know that they need to be logged-on. Consider requiring employees to download the apps (Teams / Sharepoint Online etc.) onto their mobile phones as well.
Make sure employees know that any costs incurred from corporate communications, which rely on traditional mobile telephones, will be reimbursed by the company during this period.
If you have emails with large attachments, there is a good possibility that receipt may be delayed for employees in Vietnam especially if your corporate email server is located overseas. Consider separating the email message from the attachment. Try to reduce the size of the attachments or find other channels for the delivery of such attachments.
If your employees are forced to rely on non-corporate channels, such as Zalo or Facebook messenger to communicate and share files etc., ensure you send out some guidance to them on what kind of information may not be shared over such channels. This is an area where your internal legal resources at HQ might be required to provide input. For instance, you may have contracts in place with certain clients or vendors that restrict the sharing of certain information over non-corporate channels.
Efficiency is a key consideration for your organization in the coming months, but data protection should also be ensured. Without such guidance, you may find that your Vietnam-based employees are sharing all sorts of documents and information via their personal accounts.
Set up a clear and regular communication schedule for senior resources during the coming weeks. This is particularly important when people are working remotely. Most modern conference call platforms include not only an online attendance option where full functionality can be enjoyed during meetings but also a “dial-in” option for those participants who simply want voice functionality through their mobile phones. This functionality is recommended for employees that might be facing limited bandwidth issues from their residential addresses.
These above measures can at least enable your Vietnam-based employees to continue working with a reasonable degree of efficiency and security while the situation stabilizes. As that happens, your company should be considering how to deal with the medium-term impact. This is something that can’t be rushed.
Digital Communication and Remote Work – The New Norm
BCP plans need to be designed carefully before they are implemented, taking into account the nature of your business, its global requirements, as well as Vietnam-specific considerations. Once designed, appropriate hardware needs to be procured, software installed, and data migrated carefully. The process takes months, requiring close liaison between your operations teams in Vietnam (and elsewhere) and your IT resources.
Solutions should be put in place as soon as possible. The current situation should be a wake-up call to your organization that such technology is becoming increasingly important. It is not only critical in “crisis” situations, such as the current COVID-19 outbreak; digital communication and sharing tools are increasingly being considered as a replacement to the traditional office environment.
For those organizations that are “ahead of the game” in this respect, this current crisis should actually provide them with a kind of competitive advantage for a period of time.
This report was written by Adam Livermore and Thomas Zhang and first appeared on Vietnam Briefing, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dezan Shira & Associates, Asia's largest independent foreign direct investment practice and is republished here with Vietnam Briefing’s permission. Vietnam Briefing provides business intelligence to foreign investors interested in, or operating in Vietnam. For more information, visit them on the web at: https://www.vietnam-briefing.com