How do you run an oil company from home?

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered one of the most volatile periods on record for energy markets, with almost a third of global oil demand wiped out as millions stayed home amid lock-down measures and travel bans.

Undoubtedly, running an oil company – a type of business, which typically requires a significant number of workers on the ground and near others, has been no easy feat. Before the pandemic, many oil producers had been wary of moving away from traditional means of drilling with on-site specialists. However, overnight, entire work forces were relocated home and operations had to adapt to ensure the safe running of oil assets.

The sudden, large-scale shift to remote working has meant leading and managing in new ways. So, as the industry starts to take stock of one of the most disruptive periods in history, what are the key lessons to running an oil company from home?

Communication & Connection

Running a global business is challenging at the best of times, particularly when you are having to navigate multiple time zones and language barriers. With employees also working remotely and being disconnected from the company’s central hub, it’s crucial that you form an ongoing and open dialogue.

While developing clear communication pathways have always been of the upmost importance to leaders, this has now moved far beyond communicating wider company decisions, to a process whereby leaders actively engage with team members directly, and on a regular basis. The key here is to empower employees and offer support, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of micromanaging.

This process doesn’t just apply to team members. Successful oil companies also rely greatly on developing strong working relationships with key industry players including governments, private equity and non-bank lenders and local civil society organisations. Over the past six months, it has become paramount that oil executives have become more focused on connecting and engaging with these stakeholders, in the absence of in-person interaction.

Embrace the digital revolution

Leaders across all industries have benefited from adopting the right technologies amid the global shift to home working. From Zoom calls and Microsoft Team chats to shared spreadsheets, these tools have enabled executives to effectively steer operations and monitor employee progress.

Whilst the same applies within the oil industry, some executives have gone one step further to bridge distancing issues. For example, the pandemic has encouraged several oil executives to accelerate their companies use of remote drilling and fracking technologies. This has kept oil wells operational and employees on the clock. The adoption of digital inspections in maintenance and manufacturing has also helped oil companies to stay on track and make faster decisions, both in relation to current and future projects.

Leverage local partnerships

With a vast number of industry employees including oil rig, refinery and pipeline workers re-locating, it is vital that company executives leverage their local networks to ensure on the ground assistance.

Ultimately, companies who come out on top will be those who remain agile and adapt with the rapidly developing situation. For this you will need a revised, perhaps reinvented business model, which is resilient enough for the new times. If your usual country representatives are no longer available, consider creating new teams or tapping into local talent networks and re-distribute responsibilities accordingly. Teams also tend to thrive when they are co-located, so re-assigning employees to form new teams within their immediate proximity can also help to boost productivity and company morale.

Champion transparency and authenticity

While the priority of an organisation during a pandemic is the safety and well-being of its workforce, firms must also address how critical functions can be performed and monitor operations constantly.

Employees are looking for leaders to be trustworthy, compassionate and hopeful.  Being transparent will help reassure employees about their position in relation to the company and the role they can play in its future. Rather than being evasive, now is the time for leaders to step up and be honest about the priorities for the company and realistic about the challenges ahead. You don’t have to be in the building to be visible and show a strong leadership presence!

Running any company from home comes with its own unique challenges and leaders will need to commit to bold structural moves and embrace new ways of thinking to successfully adapt to the new Covid era. Actions taken now can have an instant impact on the survival of the company and how it can successfully rebound from the global downturn.  Business impact analysis on the chain of activities and functions, along with inter-dependencies can also help to inform potential mitigation strategies.

Future business journey

While businesses focus on supporting employees, customers and suppliers, stablise revenues and reshape their businesses to align with the present situation, leaders will need to assess opportunities for growth and optimize their company’s resilience. They will then have to rapidly turn their attention to the next period.

With an unpredictable economic recovery over the horizon, new competition and opportunities will rise – with that, business practices, leadership mindsets and corporate behaviour will shift into a new era as industries reinvent themselves and redefine their purpose.  Agility, flexibility, visionary thinking and bold action will be paramount in this new age of opportunity as the oil and gas ecosystem reconfigures and rules of the next normal toughen.

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