Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

FUTURE

30 million minutes of remote meetings: how Adnoc is pumping out productivity while WFH

One of the UAE's biggest employers is reaping the rewards of its digital transformation efforts

Adnoc headquarters in Abu Dhabi. Reuters
Adnoc headquarters in Abu Dhabi. Reuters

Employees at the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, one of the UAE’s biggest employers, logged more than 30 million minutes of video and audio meetings over two months of remote working during the Covid-19 outbreak, the company said, marking a seismic shift in culture for an otherwise traditional industry.

“This has been a rapid transformation that no-one saw coming, but we are encouraged by the very positive attitude of our employees in this remote working environment,” Ali Al Sayegh, vice president of internal communications and employee engagement at Adnoc, told The National.

Mr Al Sayegh said the company's office workers adapted "surprisingly fast" to working from home, and productivity was unaffected. His team crunched the numbers from mid-March, when work from home orders took effect in Abu Dhabi, to mid-May. The company’s 50,000 employees clocked 1.2 million one-to-one and group calls and exchanged more than 10 million instant messages.

As millions of public and private sector workers around the world start taking steps to return to the office, boards and chief executives are mulling what a new normal will look like following their experience of remote working. Technology companies like Google, Microsoft and Twitter have told their employees they may never return to the office if they don’t want to. But other major sectors like finance, oil and gas and propertty have not made such headlines. However, that does not mean some form of remote work for these industries is not possible in the longer term.

Four years ago, Adnoc began a technology transformation initiative, including a digital command centre that opened in early 2018. That work has paid off, Mr Al Sayegh said, and the benefits of expanding its technology resources are being felt across the company as 99 per cent of its office staff are working from home.

Panorama, located at Adnoc’s headquarters in Abu Dhabi, is now being accessed remotely by employees through a secure connection, providing real-time information across the company’s 14 subsidiary and joint venture companies and using artificial intelligence and data analysis to anticipate disruptions and optimise production.

Hani Nehaid, a manager in the geoscience department for Adnoc upstream, has worked for the company for 14 years, and now leads a team of 18 geoscience experts to analyse oil and gas reservoirs. He also leads seismic operations to provide detailed images of the Earth’s subsurface and help identify new oil and gas resources.

These are jobs that require robust software and technical know-how, with the intention of maximising hydrocarbon's value and reducing operating costs. The work is also collaborative, and one may assume best done in a traditional office setting.

"We’ve found it very efficient to work from home", Mr Nehaid told The National. “As a technical team, we will always be frustrated if we can’t access the tools to do our job, but since day one everyone had the software and technology they needed so their work isn’t interrupted."

While productivity has not suffered, he acknowledged everyone has had a different work-from-home reality to adapt to, and they share tips with each other on regular team calls. Mr Nehaid also sees a silver lining.

“Everybody now, from a work-life balance perspective, is more efficient. You can see your kids or your family, but I don’t think … because we are all on a technical team and very focused by nature, even at home it’s not that different from working at the office," he said. “There are a lot of ways to work from home."

Some of these have been creative with team members that needed larger screens to look at 3D images below the ground or underwater, plugging into their televisions at home to get a larger view.

The team are also now accustomed to being called into remote meetings at a moment’s notice to solve problems or answer a question, something that was more difficult to achieve in an office setting, Mr Nehaid said.

“With just one click, a team member is in the meeting. There are a lot of lessons learnt from this that we will take back to the office with us,” he said.

But even then, he said he expects he will be a more flexible manager in the future now that he has seen how his team performs out of the office.

Updated: May 31, 2020 09:08 AM

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