Agile Innovation During Covid-19

Few companies or individuals could have foreseen the speed with which Covid-19 spread across the world, nor the scope of countries and territories that would be affected. Once it began impacting businesses everywhere, it would have been easy to write off 2020, maintain a status quo and begin planning for 2021. But that has not been OQ’s approach.

OQ’s new brand and integration had barely been announced when the spectre of Covid-19 began to cast its shadow over the globe. The pandemic was already underway when the last two OQ units, OQ Chemicals (formerly OXEA) and OQ Trading (formerly Oman Trading International), came under the new brand umbrella. Although comprised of established business units led by experienced executives, no new brand would want to begin its life under such circumstances. And yet, after almost half a year of facing these unprecedented conditions, OQ Group CEO Musab Al Mahruqi reflected, “As the first half of 2020 draws to a close, I look back to the last few months with pride at how far we have come together as an organisation. Covid-19, with all its implications, has forced us to become more flexible, agile and proactive in dealing with and managing the crisis”.

OQ put the safety and wellbeing of the OQ Family first, seeking to protect not only the health and welfare of staff, but also to maintain their livelihoods. It then seized upon this challenging time not as a crisis, despite the severity of its impact, but as an opportunity to establish best-in-class management practices for a streamlined enterprise, and fully realise the vision for a global integrated energy company that led to OQ’s creation.

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Decisive action

Safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the OQ Family meant taking swift and significant action in OQ’s facilities and offices in 16 countries to protect more than 6,500 employees. These steps included but were certainly not limited to:

  • Procuring temperature scanning devices and deploying it across OQ
  • Developing Business Continuity Plans across all assets to ensure operational resiliency
  • Organising shift workers at various sites to ensure business continuity
  • Ensuring that the supply chain to our operations is not interrupted during the lockdown
  • Ensuring access to our assets during the lockdown (plants, pipelines, warehouses)
  • Maintaining office-based employee capacity at 20%
  • Leader review of all ‘working from office’ employee lists
  • Providing no objection letters to employees to go back and forth from their hometowns to their place of work during the Eid holidays/routine travel

These were difficult and disruptive measures, but were necessary in the face of the current situation. OQ guarded against illness with the same vigilance as that of workplace injuries at our factories, plants and refineries. The only truly acceptable number when it comes to health and safety-related issues in a given month is zero, and that is always the goal at OQ.

With the welfare of the communities in mind, OQ took steps to begin demonstrating that care for the communities in which OQ operates. Thanks to the fundraising efforts and generosity of OQ employees, the company was able to donate more than $6.25 Mn to the All For Oman Campaign. OQ also partnered with Sultan Qaboos University to build ventilators which were donated to Oman’s Ministry of Health. The company also supported Sohar University’s response to Covid-19 by donating an injection moulding machine for a production cell at their Intaj Suhar facility to allow large size batch production of much-needed healthcare equipment and materials.

In one of its first moves as a fully integrated unit of OQ, OQ Chemicals (formerly OXEA), which was already the world’s largest producer of n-propanol, tripled its delivery volumes of that compound in Europe to meet the high demand from manufacturers of hand sanitiser products. The company also increased production of propyls product line, comprising both n-propanol and n-propyl acetate.

Suhar refinery followed intense footsteps and produced 5 000 bottles of OQ Branded hand sanitisers that was mostly consumed internally in OQ, and a limited amount was sold to the market.

Business Continuity

Development and activation of Business Continuity Plans (BCP) across all OQ assets have enabled business to continue at a predefined level and combat the spike in Covid-19 scenarios to ensure operational resiliency and minimise business interruptions.

BCPs were and are being continuously updated due to the changes that the pandemic risk brings about, by walkthroughs and preparedness reviews in order to identify any gaps in existing procedures and ensure all relevant stakeholders understand their roles and responsibilities at this critical time. Embracing a resilient culture; employees have maintained business as usual with minimum disruptions in virtual platforms that connect everyone with each other.

Maintaining vigilance

OQ recognises the need to remain vigilant and reactive to forthcoming ebbs and flows in the pandemic's progression. Wherever the company does business, OQ continues to strictly adhere to health and safety procedures. Restrictions on movement, both within Oman and internationally, must be followed for the protection of all, as must limitations on the mandated number of people in offices of facilities at a given time.

OQ has now invested $ 590 000 for the procurement of their own COVID Testing machines and test kits, which will be utilised to tests employees and contractor’s pre-mobilisation to remote locations to prevent the outbreak of sickness due to internal transfer. This service will be made available to the broader OQ community and other companies as the testing capacity is 60 samples every hour.

Covid-19 has brought numerous hardships to the OQ Family, from parents challenged by the sudden environmental change of working from home, joined by children unable to go to school; to expat workers who cannot return to their home country to see loved ones, stranded by travel restrictions. However, it is the agility and ability to innovate that the OQ Family has demonstrated throughout this period that shows the company is ready to continue moving forward, even when resisted by forceful market headwinds.

Group CEO Musab Al Mahruqi summed up OQ’s approach to the future best when he said, “We want to have something bold, fresh and new that positions OQ as a progressive organisation compared to traditional industry norms. That means that we will always seek to improve and re-invent ourselves. Going forward, change will be the only constant”. By keeping that in mind, the agile, innovative OQ Family will continue to boldly face challenges, and will be ready to handle them.