How to be Productive during the Global Lockdown: The ThroughPut Playbook to Maintain your Output Levels

March 20, 2020 · 12 minutes
By Ali Hasan Raza
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Across the United States and much of the world, we find ourselves in the middle of another week of escalating situations stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. The deaths in Italy have surpassed those in China.

California has over 40 million people on lockdown with New York following suit today. Schools have been postponed or outright canceled until further notice, with restaurants being encouraged to only offer take-out, pick-up, or delivery. I

t’s a strange feeling for many to see the world’s economic engines come to a halt, especially here at ThroughPut, a company whose name is associated with speed and flow. 

These are uncertain times for businesses that are used to having cash flow, steady top lines, and predictable bottom lines. As of right now, top lines have been essentially wiped out for industries like air transportation, freight, gastronomy, tourism, travel, and many more.

Bottom lines are in jeopardy for almost every industrial supply chain in the world, except for those that might benefit from the coronavirus pandemic, such vaccine companies, facemask producers, medical device companies, certain eCommerce companies, etc.).

Government bailout money might buy well-connected businesses and specific verticals more time to survive, but not necessarily any additional output or leaner operations.

During this period, many corporations are trying to find ways to remain relevant in the market. Microsoft, Zoom, Facebook, Slack and every-other software company are pitching their video conferencing, remote collaboration and online productivity tool platforms to purported enable some productivity during such drastic times, while hoping to transition us to what has been called the “future of work”, preferably on their own respective platforms as businesses eventually turn the corner later this year or next. 

It’s important to communicate that there is already hope on the horizon. China has gone 2 days now without new infection cases of local citizens (just those who have traveled in from abroad).

South Korea has “flattened the curve” in part with mass drive-through-testing in record time and volumes, and high-throughput tests are finally becoming more available in the US, even if the testing kits and support materials are still in short supply and erratic in distribution.

Looking specifically at China’s economy turning the corner, according to the Seatrade Maritime Times, Chinese container ports saw a 9.1% jump in container throughput last week, which means cargo is recovering.

However, here in America, non-essential businesses are going through a rapid deceleration phase in operations, and thus looking for solutions to maintain productivity and output levels, and some semblance of profitability, or at least, reduced losses of shorter duration. 

Let me go on the record and say that I am not an advocate for “productivity” or “efficiency” for their sake alone. Neither word has ever registered with me well, as neither term is tied to “purpose”.

The assumptions around both terms are that humans are lazy, underperforming, or suboptimal, and constantly need to be prodded to achieve anything. If anything, this shows a lack of creativity and drive in incentive and operations structure, as well as company vision, leadership and purpose.

This has been a personal uphill battle communicating to Fortune 500 C-Suites and Industrial Family Owners for years, but I am required to communicate in these terms until there is enough trust to talk about “throughput, bottlenecks, and material flow”, or rather, those things that actually provide superior results and a differentiated market advantage with buy-in from, rather than dehumanizing of, the workforce.

This is where I can open up the floodgates of knowledge on how to create unprecedented output, leverage the data all companies already have on hand, analyze it with software, and standardize it across their operations. 

However, almost every public company and startup right now is looking for “productivity hacks”, so even in this more dire of situations, little seems to have been learned or changed since other still recent global crisisses have reared their ugly heads.

History may be destined to repeat itself, but business knowledge doesn’t and shouldn’t stay so static and trapped in outmoded ways. 

As such, I learn new ways to increase output, almost every single day from global operational thought leaders and industry-leading customers around the world. At ThroughPut we are constantly learning and striving to be better. 

I’ve been fortunate to learn from a myriad of diversified situations, from oilfield operations from ex-combat soldiers in war-torn countries, to hard-charging, agile startup operations with serial Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, scalers, financiers and deal-makers. I’ve spent time in the pharmaceutical drug discovery and development world, taking things from the bench-scale, all the way up to planning go-to-market vaccine strategies for entire geo-markets.

In both the analog and virtual world, I have learned how to get things accomplished during invasions, terrorist attacks, pandemics, extreme temperatures, rough seas, physical injuries, warring workers, and extremely limited and unreliable resources. 

So to help businesses maintain productivity levels during this global pandemic, this week I am sharing a few easy-to-implement lessons from our playbook on how businesses can ensure continuity and output levels. 

My advice throughout, however, remains that productivity for the sake of productivity is not worth your time. The world could use the rest from unbridled human activity, especially Mother Nature.

Likely many families as well, otherwise too busy to spend much quality time together. Like Venice, now with crystal-blue waters and dolphins swimming up the empty canals, cities are healing around the world.

My recommendation for everyone right now is to “get sleep” first, and figure out how to best move forward thereafter.

But, since companies will ask people to “do more, with less”, and people are panicking about “being productive”,

Here are 5 ways we have and are continuing to increase flow, and “staying productive”, at ThroughPut, during the pandemic, that can help your business also maintain optimal operational levels during these uncertain times: 

Stay healthy & informed

The CDC website is the most accurate source of information on COVID-19. Please visit it and take the appropriate measures accordingly. For companies, it’s not only important to educate their own employees, but also your suppliers, customers and partners.

There is just too much misinformation flying around that is creating work constraints, distractions, suboptimal behavior, and leading to complete shutdowns, when rather, certain business units could still be operating (for example: operational excellence teams, strategy, business analysts, finance, etc).

Pay attention to your local and State government briefings for the most directly applicable news, and read the White House Briefings, to understand what may be coming down the road, while also filtering through any political subtext. Know what your country is asking you to do, and you can be of the most value to your family, your community, your company, your country, and ultimately, your world. 

Expected output gains: The difference between shutting down or being in business in binary.  0 or 1. I/O 

Video-Conferencing, Remote Collaboration Tools, Remote Management Suites

One of the reasons why ThroughPut is so productive is across multiple successful businesses we have led over the past two decades, we have always had a culture of working remotely.

Whether early morning calls to Europe, India and the East Coast, or late night calls to Asia, or from our many global customer sites, we have always been dialed-in from the road and in near-constant contact with team members around the world.

I believe that people are professional and mature enough to be productive anywhere. Now is when that belief is paying off, and serving as a good role model for others around us, including our team’s children, now remotely learning online from home. 

For example, I once clocked how much time it takes me to travel between the East Bay and our headquarters in Palo Alto, a commute tens-of-thousands of professionals do on most work days here in Silicon Valley.

I was shocked to uncover that almost 10% of my life (easily 2 months) was simply spent commuting to work across the Dumbarton Bridge. So, in 2017, I enforced a personal rule to start work from home early (I start work well before dawn) as the primary option to increase my personal throughput.

On a good day, I get more work done by 9 am, than most rush-hour commuters get done by 5 pm, and can catch up on critical reading and calls during the now less stressful commute for those days when I do join the team in the office.

Choosing to run video conferences easily eliminates two 60+ minute trips on a daily basis in the Bay Area. As a guess, video conferencing gives me up to 20% of my time back to do other things (strategic work, exercise, cook at home, reading, etc.) 

Unfortunately, seamless videoconferencing and online collaboration tools is not the norm for most companies, especially the larger public ones with legacy technology stacks and restrictive technology policies. 

From a productivity and team perspective, however, it’s probably far more effective to begin this step now, and expand your portfolio and users of such tools: coronavirus or not. Your workforce will be better prepared once they’re up to speed, and it’ll become engrained thereafter.

Expected output gains: 10-40% compared to regular office routines

how to Streamline Your Current Operations Through Data

If there was ever a time to pause and analyze your workflows and operations, now would be it.

With so many professionals sitting at home behind their computers, waiting to get back to the office, now is probably the best time to kick-off continuous improvement projects, data analysis, and strategic planning, to ensure your business can operate through what is yet to come, and furthermore returns back stronger, healthier, leaner and with better operations and product flow on the rebound.

It will be a tremendous help, for you to catch up on lost output and sales faster while ensuring better profit margins in the process. Don’t know how? Drop me an email, call, or instant message. 

Let’s make a bold assumption. Unless your business operates in critical or essential goods and services, you will have very little control over your top line.

Thus, this is the time to work on operational improvements, minimize the downside, optimize for the upside, and get your business, and yourself, in shape for the marathon ahead. 

This is what ThroughPut does and is helping our customers do today.

We are communicating that instead of redoing the usual demand forecast predictions in a Black Swan event, you should be focused on running superb operations in real-time and using data you already have, with software solutions available today, to be more calculated with your shopfloor strategy RIGHT NOW.

While our customers in places like Italy, Japan, and Brazil wait for workers to physically go back to their factories and warehouses, we are actively using ThroughPut’s ELI and ELITE software to help our customers determine how they can operate leaner, faster, smoother, and better, once they start up their operations afresh again.

Previously we have boosted output up to 200% for clients using our ELI software and their data to enable stronger, higher flowing, and more predictable operations.

With many non-critical firms able to take a breather from their day-to-day physical operations, what better time to take a step back and see where the bottlenecks and waste has been, and otherwise will still be, within your business when you come back online.

After all, in a recovering global economy, those that make the changes now, will be the ones with a differentiated advantage in the marketplace and capture out-sized gains from their competitors. We have seen this at ThroughPut and other companies we have led time and time again through multiple global economic crises.

Expected output gains: 10-200%

Taking Care of Administrative Paperwork

With everything going on with the coronavirus pandemic, surely folks can get to that pile of real or virtual paperwork that’s been cluttering up in the back of their minds. The fact is, delayed or not, tax season is just around the corner.

Yes, extensions are being provided by the IRS and other groups, but this is when businesses should be using the extra time to research new tax breaks, grants, assistance and programs that could be helpful to their operations, capital expenditures, employee retention and retraining.

Additionally, there is so much administrative paperwork for the average business manager that a normal work week just doesn’t allow the bandwidth to address. Some of these activities can take months, and with multitasking, deceptively more time gets lost in constant distraction, layered more work on and on and on again.

This is the perfect time to get the books in order, re-evaluate budgets, become certified, and get those T&E reports done and approved, do more in-house administrative work, streamline processes and procedures, and start analyzing those reams of reports and data, finally turning data into decisions into dollars. 

At ThroughPut, we are using the time to get Master Service Agreements signed, getting NDAs wrapped up, filing for taxes and government programs, reviewing new employee and consultant contracts, wrapping up fundraising paperwork, doing cash collections, and improving general business housekeeping. 

Expected output gains: 10-20%

Taking Care of People

Last, but not least, the coronavirus pandemic should allow more businesses to step back and focus on what matters most: their people. After all, these are your domain experts with years, if not decades of knowledge under their belt.

Without them, much of what you do, and hope to achieve again after the likely prolonged downturn, would be difficult, if not impossible. If you institutionalized their knowledge and learned how to make sense of your disparate data systems, then people will be one of your most important knowledge-based assets managing through the crisis, and scaling up on the other side be secondhand.

Toss them or lose them, and you’ll be ill-prepared. Enable them with data and software, and you’ll be ahead of 96% of your competitors.

Otherwise prepare to spend heavily on hiring big-name consulting firms on the other side, to help you do what your own people used to do for you, and in many cases, pull the same types of people you laid off right back into your own operations at a much higher billable rate and no loyalty or sense of mission. 

This is a great time to plan out training & development and provide opportunities to star contributors that regular business operations often don’t allow. It’s a good time to reach out to shareholders, customers, channel partners, advisors, and others tied to your community to make sure they are doing okay and understand how they are dealing with the situation.

This is going to be your support network for as long as this crisis lasts.

With all the division it is causing globally, the coronavirus pandemic has brought us closer to some of the groups that felt much more distant in the past, as we discover we are all facing the same concerns together. While the output gains cannot already be quantified upfront, I have always found that being there when everyone else abandons ship is the best demonstration of commitment and character, which always pays back in the long run. 

Expected output gains: Intangible

So there you have it. This is part of ThroughPut’s playbook to stay productive and help your community sustain operations, while preparing for the rebound. If you would like to share your own thoughts, please e-mail us at: 

Wishing you great health during this time.

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