Dubai: For some, it’s a matter of choice. For some others, it’s a matter of compulsion. With partial movement restrictions still in force in Dubai and many other parts of the UAE and with offices and business establishments still required to ensure that they have not more than 30 per cent of their entire workforce physically present at the premises, working from home and remote operations have become the new normal in dealing with a raging pandemic.
In keeping with the challenging times that the world is in, billions around the world have been either forced to work from the confines of their homes or have opted to play it safe by not venturing out on a daily basis to meet their professional commitments. However, there are some for whom staying at home and remote working come with certain logistical handicaps. This is particularly true for those whose professions fall into certain categories of services that are considered essential. For these professionals, stepping out on business or service commitments is a matter of compulsion and they have been braving the dangers of a pandemic as duty beckons. One such professional is Atul Kumar, an Indian expatriate who is the co-owner and general manager of Dubai-based Excellcia International Carpentry LLC, a company that specialises in interior decorations and woodworks for residential and commercial units. Even during movement restrictions in Dubai, Kumar has had to venture out, attend to the needs of his workers at his workshop in Jaddaf, meet clients whose consignments were in various stages of completion and conduct parleys with his business associates — all in strict adherence to social-distancing norms and other parameters as stipulated by the authorities. Kumar shared his trials and tribulations with Gulf News.
GULF NEWS: How have you managed to carry on with your usual business activities, even as more than half the world stays confined to home in an attempt to keep the dangers from the coronavirus pandemic at bay?
ATUL KUMAR: There are primarily two ways in which we have been dealing with the current situation.
First of all, so far as the conduct of our day-to-day business is concerned, definitely we have had to grapple with a lot of logistical hardships. But having said that, let me also tell you that this pandemic hasn’t kept us bogged down; we have still managed to get on with our professional activities.
Now there are two ways in which we have managed to deal with the present limitations in terms of movement restrictions, social-distancing norms and other health parameters. Firstly, we have tried to conduct most of our client meetings and business communications through various electronic and digital communication platforms, such as regular phone calls, video conferencing and so on.
Secondly, we have had to meet our workers at the workshop on certain occasions because they need to be briefed on crucial technical and logistical issues that are difficult to sort out over the phone or email or even through a video call. So for that, we have had to meet them and oversee their work at the workshop, but all such meetings were in strict adherence to social-distancing norms and in utmost compliance with the health parameters set by the UAE authorities. Wearing masks at all times, frequently sanitising hands and ensuring not more than 30 per cent of the workforce was present at the workshop at any given point of time are some of the measures being assiduously followed by us. Moreover, we had to make sure at the very outset that we were among the ‘exempted’ categories of business operations to be able to keep our activities going.
So we do have a lot of challenges to overcome, but we have still managed to get along.
You mentioned ‘challenges’ ... will you like to elaborate on that?
Yes, there are challenges on multiple fronts. To give you just one example, now that we are working onsite and at the workshop with only 30 per cent of our workforce, our productivity is also down by 30 per cent. But the orders that we have already accepted and are committed to deliver have to be met. But the point is that the entire world is going through this, it’s not just us alone. These are challenging times for everyone all over the globe. So we have to face them the best way we can.
To what extent do you think has Dubai and the UAE made a difference to this fight against a deadly virus ...
The way Dubai and the UAE have stood by its residents and citizens is truly remarkable. In every possible way, this country and this emirate have tried to lessen the hardships of the people and ensure their safety in these difficult times – whether it be in terms of providing the best possible health-care facilities and infrastructure or in terms of trying to lessen the burden on the people by offering various types of amnesty and relief measures for visa fees, renewals, expirations and so on. So the government is trying to help us in every possible way. As an entrepreneur, I am very happy with the way the UAE Government has dealt with this crisis.
Given the fact that there are now more than four million positive cases of the virus all over the world, does it worry you, every time you have to step out for a client meeting?
Of course that worries me. And it’s not just me who is worried about it. Even my family members, my wife, parents and children who are in India, are worried about my health and safety, just as I’m worried about their well-being. My business associate and co-owner Sandeep Garg, who is stranded in India for the last two months because of the lockdown, is also worried about me and the business. Likewise, I’m worried about the safety of our workers. Every day, before we begin work, I spend about 15 minutes at the workshop explaining to them some of the dos and don’ts of hygiene and safe-practises.
How do you think, if at all, will the world change once this pandemic blows over? Will it be a very different place to live in?
I’m sure even when lockdowns are lifted worldwide and the coronavirus crisis is over, our lives will not be the same again. This worry over hygiene and infection will very much be there. This crisis is bound to bring a lot of changes to our lifestyle. This will be particularly true for the younger generation. They will have a very different world to inhabit.
Does anyone inspire you, as an entrepreneur, leader or simply as a human being?
I have been inspired and influenced by many people, but foremost among them is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. He is a true leader and a visionary.