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Hybrid Office for the maritime- is it possible?


The hybrid word has got such an importance as never before view the Pandemic. The verticals of maritime industry including other industries, which were presumed “had to have 100% office attendance”, operated successfully with staff working 100% from home.


Pandemic has accelerated the development and advancement of 2 things mainly by at least a decade :

1) The communication and allied technologies which is required for reducing presence in office

2) The mind set of accepting the fact that operations without office attendance is possible.


View the above, WFH has become a new norm not only in the maritime industry but for various sectors all over the world.


Having said that, the ride till the present norm was not a smooth one and there were many hurdles the employees and the employers had to face.


The challenges employees faced:

1) Internet access was a major concern

2) Office ergonomics at home was a challenge

3) Teamwork, employee morale started declining

4) Some employees were dis-oriented and confused view lessened guidance and direction from seniors

5) Switching of focus on output to screen time- Some companies started monitoring login/logout times

6) Health issues – too much screen time, loss of work life balance etc.


The challenges employers faced:


1) Monitoring of tasks assigned and output of employees was challenging

2) Communication with employees was affected

3) Communication with customers were affected

4) Business development was not very effective

5) Implementation and maintenance of technology increased

6) Training and upgrading of the work force was a challenge.


In view of the above points ,100% office attendance being uncertain and 100% WFH having its separate challenges, the maritime industry will have to sooner or later move in a direction to embrace the changes which could be in a sorts, the best of both worlds.


Hybrid working in the maritime industry would mainly mean more flexibility in office attendance and would affect functions to varying levels. We will discuss some in brief below:


1) Maintenance of vessels: As the maintenance of vessels had to be done by the ship staff and only the required spares had to be supplied on time, except for the logistics challenges, there are no challenges for operating the technical and purchase function in a hybrid mode.


2) Marine operations: This has majorly been a remote function in the pre covid times as well, as the main purpose of this function was to keep the vessel commercially ready for the charterers at all times. Hence this function can be performed in and hybrid mode.


3) Monitoring of Health and safety systems on board: This function has again been more of remote assistance to the ships in maintaining and continuous upgrading of vessel’s systems. This function can be successfully managed in a hybrid work environment with improved technology.


4) Manning functions:

  • Even though some part of the manning function like documentation and travel can be managed in a hybrid mode, what this will cause the lessening of physical interaction of seafarers with office staff. In pre covid times, seafarers visit offices prior joining and there were always good physical interaction prior seafarers boarded the vessels which improves the relationship between ship and shore teams.

  • Within the office, various teams have to work in close coordination to actually place seafarers onboard like the recruiting team, the planners, the documentation team, the travel team and hence there could be some hiccups in the hybrid operation mode with regards to the promptness of communication and coordination.

In view of the above, Manning function can be one area where there could be challenges in operating offices in a hybrid mode for a long time, view higher human interactions.


5) Commercial activities: This function has always been remotely managed, even during the pre-covid times as the majority of cargo brokers and intermediaries sitting mostly in the UK and managing the trade worldwide. So, if their offices are hybrid, it would not make much of a difference in the commercial activities of the vessels.


6) Training of seafarers: Even though the training were being delivered and certificates issued, the effectiveness of the training conducted is always a suspect. Hence the training is most effective only if there is more of a physical interaction with the trainer and trainee.


7) Office Administration: This is a function in all offices, where physical presence is always required and minimum staff is needed for effective performance. Hence this is also a function which cannot be operated in a hybrid mode for extended period of time.


8) Training of office staff: This is another function which has always been under rated in the maritime industry and has taken a real beating during the Pandemic. The trainings are mostly “on the job” trainings and requires close monitoring of the trainees for better performance. With remote working there has not been sufficient monitoring ang mentoring of the junior staff for better performance of their function.


Summary:

One might argue that the maritime offices were completely operating from home for the entire covid period and the all functions were delivered. Yes, but the subtle performance challenges were always present which cannot be overlooked.


Having said that, hybrid working environment in the maritime industry can be considered for certain functions for a certain period of time. With regards to the manning function, it could be a challenging proposition even for a shorter period of time.


Even though it does seem that the Hybrid work culture is here to stay, the crux of the issue is the requirement of physical human interaction and those functions which need these for proper functioning will be affected.


We would need to wait and watch to see, how the hybrid culture is able to cope with the reduction in the human interactions.


Please do share your comments on how the hybrid work culture is helping you or is affecting you.

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