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How do you run an oil company from home?

The sudden, large-scale shift to remote working as a result of the pandemic has required new ways of leading and managing. Boris Ivanov, founder of GPB Global Resources B.V. has some advice for business leaders

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 lockdown measures and travel bans. As a result, oilfields were shut down, storage tanks filled up in record time, US prices temporarily turned negative for the first time in history and oil companies embarked on a price war to try and gain a competitive advantage in the market.

A pandemic can have severe consequences in impacted areas and geographies, making them inaccessible for an extended period of time. Running an oil company – a type of business which typically requires a significant number of workers on the ground and near others – is no easy feat.

Before the pandemic, many oil producers had been wary of moving away from traditional means of drilling with on-site specialists. Overnight, entire workforces 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 and connection

Running a global business with operations spread across multiple countries 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 therefore being disconnected from the company’s central hub, it is imperative that you form an ongoing and open dialogue.

Leaders need to respond quickly and address reality. They must acknowledge the new, difficult facts on the ground and their narrative must be honest, simple and direct. Communication style is at the heart of this. While developing clear communication pathways has always been of the upmost importance to leaders, this has now moved far beyond communicating wider company decisions and trajectories, to a process whereby leaders and senior management actively engage with team members directly, and on a regular basis. The key here is to empower team members and offer support amid the ongoing market uncertainty, while avoiding the pitfalls of micromanaging.

This process does not just apply to employees. Successful oil companies also rely greatly on developing strong working relationships with leading industry players including governments, private equity and non-bank lenders, development finance institutions 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.

Read more in our latest issue of Oil Review Middle East!