Sameh Sabry, Senior Vice President – Managing Director Wintershall Dea Egypt, shares the lessons learnt from the unprecedented times of COVID-19, dwelling on his experiences from his everyday life, from adaptability and digitalisation to team-culture.
2020 has brought unexpected challenges. Working in the oil and gas sector, I’m used to volatility, but nothing could have prepared us for the scale of the changes we would experience in everyday life. Schools and offices shut, parents juggling work and childcare. An altogether different Eid Al-Fitr holiday, involving less contact with friends and family as usual. And from a business perspective, plunging demand for oil and gas as the shutters came down on the global economy.
While everything is far from being back to normal, after four months of working from home, it’s a good moment to reflect on a few key learnings from the last few months.
One is that people and teams are actually great at adapting to new challenges. The concept of working from home is of course not a particularly common one in Egypt, less so than in Europe and North America. Therefore, the transition for my team from normal office life to working exclusively from home, in just a few days, was a major one. Our colleagues found themselves in a completely new situation: juggling a strange mixture of home and working life. In my personal experience, working from home allowed me to spend more time with my wife and two daughters. However, it made everyone realize how busy I can be during a working day, where breaks and quick chats with family members during the day can be sometimes difficult to have.
However, my team handled the situation perfectly, quickly adapted, and went the extra mile to maintain operations and business as usual. And while we hope to never go through the same experience again, we have learnt something valuable for the future. Our people can rise to new challenges, do things differently, change, learn and adapt in quite extreme ways. Our sector will change in the coming years, as global energy markets respond to environmental demands. Our experiences in the last few months should be a reminder that we can be confident, not nervous, when confronted with the need to adapt.
Secondly, the crisis has highlighted the critical importance of digitalisation, and reminded us that a reliable digital infrastructure is essential. At Wintershall Dea, digital and networked working is nothing unusual, but rather normal practice. In fact, the extent of digitalisation is shown by the fact that in some of our Business Units, such as in the Netherlands and Norway, our production platforms are operated unmanned, controlled by mouse click from a control centre. By enabling home working and remote operations, digitalisation makes us more resilient. In Egypt, we have fully utilized the available tools and pushed ourselves to be more digital to cope with current situation. However, I still look forward to introducing more digital solutions into our Egyptian business in the coming years.
My final learning is not about technology but about people. If there’s one thing this crisis has shown, it’s the importance of a strong and positive internal culture. A culture in which people trust, support and look out for one another. At Wintershall Dea, that starts at the very top, and we’ve enjoyed participating in a weekly video update with our Chief Executive, Mario Mehren, who has encouraged all of us to take care of our physical and mental health during this difficult time. And in my team, I’ve been proud to see our people sharing advice, virtually meeting, and staying in touch online, even when we can’t see each other in person. That’s helped us all feel connected and motivated to perform. I have also enjoyed holding all staff online meetings a number of times and speak with the team from home. A strong positive internal culture isn’t – in my opinion – a ‘nice to have’, it’s essential for a high performing team.
We still have a long road to travel to get through the corona-crisis. This is a difficult time, and the shadows over our everyday lives will not lift for some time yet. But as I reflect on our business challenges, there are positives we can take from this crisis. Adaptability, digital excellence, and a positive team culture are three essential ingredients for success in 2020: and I believe for the post-corona world too.