While the vaccines are here, the war is yet to be won. COVID-19 is still raging on in many parts of the world, including India. As the new wave of coronavirus sets us back one year yet again, organizations are gearing up to sail through the uncertainty with a greater focus on continuity plans and employee support schemes. In an exclusive interaction with us, Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Ltd. shares with us how PVR is navigating the second wave and how is it bolstering employee support systems and work policies to support the workforce.
The toughest time is looming for India as companies have to ensure business continuity and productive output while supporting their workers. How is PVR ensuring that?
All businesses are navigating through the crisis and the multiplex industry which PVR is a part has been the hardest hit with theatres asked to close down in March and reopen only after 8 months. With zero revenue from our business never witnessed any time in the past, safeguarding our employees and their well-being became the topmost priority. The firm belief in such an ideology rests on the fact that an organization’s future can only be safe if its workers are safe.
As an employee-first organization, this pandemic’s impact on the lives of our employees and their families is a personal crisis more than anything. The leadership, therefore, is channeling all its resources to support employees in every way possible during these excruciating times. The last quarter of FY20- FY21 did bring in a glimmer of hope with producers announcing their release dates of the movies that were lying in waiting due to the pandemic. However, with the second wave grappling India in a harsher way, the business again came to standstill with localized lockdowns, night curfews, and eventually, cinemas asked to close down in the entire country as the priority of the government shifted to universal vaccination and reduce social interactions.
Sustaining business operations has surely been difficult with restriction on normal capacity utilization due to the implementation of social distancing measures, but with no complaints, we have curtailed our expenses, reached settlements with landlords for rent waivers/discounts & CAM charges, put on hold capex spend, liquidity enhancement through additional borrowings from existing bankers, raise QIPs and made small-term structural changes.
Today, we cannot look at anything in isolation. The health of the businesses is clearly linked with that of our workforce, customers, society, the country, and the world outside. During lockdown on the FnB front, we launched microwave popcorn brand, PVR Popmagic for our patrons while they stayed indoors. During the lockdown there was a huge demand of PVR F&B which reconfirmed our belief to accelerate our plans to activate the home delivery space, to make our delicacies travel at our patron’s home. With every innovation, we have tried to keep alive the PVR brand & the PVR experience at our patrons’ homes while the theatres were closed. Keeping employees at the forefront; empowering them with flexible work models and ensuring a positive optimistic outlook is imperative for every organization to keep the employee morale high.
How should organizations rethink talent management amid all this uncertainty? What is PVR’s focus here?
The pandemic has ushered in a dramatic shift in work culture across organizations and industries to redefine themselves to improvise their policies and HR practices. In the process what is integral is to ensure talent retention at this trying times. Before the second wave struck, to ensure health & well-being of our employees and following the safety protocols, we advised our employees to operate from home. We have also introduced a “Pause Break” for our employees to take care of themselves and their family members where a minimum of 10 days of Pause Break every month for the next 3/4 months would be adjusted against accrued annual earned leaves.
For PVR, the idea that has really gained momentum is Workforce Fluidity within the organization. Workforce fluidity encompasses not only flexible/virtual work assignments but also means eliminating job titles or even the entire construct of a job, valuing contributions to multiple teams and results instead. Today, organizations and teams are constantly thinking out of the box to come out with innovative ideas to sustain their business models. At PVR, we identify talent who can disrupt their conventional way of thinking and come up with innovative ways to manage businesses effectively. We at PVR believe that the best time to change is before it's time to change. Being the pioneers in the multiplex industry, we have set industry benchmarks and have not shied away from taking a calculated risk. Guided by this, our senior management has provided the freedom to their team members to expose themselves to new ways of learning in cross-functional areas.
Also, it is at the time of crisis, the greatest humanistic values come to the forefront. We are having a keen eye on employees who are leading from the front beyond their call of duty to become part of the Covid Response Team to assist their colleagues in executing the employee support program.
How should organizations level up their employee support systems and work policies? What has PVR done in this regard?
To prosper in today’s volatile times, businesses need to rethink their ways. Witnessing a crisis that has impacted every life causing interruption, disruption or devastation calls one to be more humanitarian in approach. The need of the hour is to stand with your employees and convey your intentions to safeguard their interests. Employee support systems / beneficial programs should be more realistic, on-ground, and timely.
The safety and well-being of employees are our first priority, and our leadership team has ensured they engage regularly with them. We were quick to introduce many welfare measures like medical reimbursements for Covid related expenses of our employees and their family members, organize online sessions by wellness & medical experts, 24*7 medical helpline, and providing financial support. Realizing vaccination as the first line of defense, the company decided to reimburse the cost of vaccination for its employees and their dependents. Through friendly inter-unit competition, we are motivating the staff of our units to get themselves vaccinated and instill a sense of pride in the achievement. PVR Juhu has become the first cinema with 100 percent staff being vaccinated as we receive encouraging news of more and more of our staff at our units getting vaccinated every day.
The Cinema Manager has been empowered with all support services and is serving as a father figure in ensuring the well-being of its unit staff through regular communication with internal WhatsApp groups. We developed a comprehensive holistic care package to support and protect our employees during this painful and difficult period. The services include the provision of essential medicines, oxygen ambulance, hospitalization assistance, oxygen concentrator, plasma donor, doctor on call, vaccination drive, and food delivery options.
How are you planning for the future amid predictions of phase three of the virus?
Our first and foremost objective is that our staff gets 100% vaccinated before we are allowed to open our premises. Of course, we would be strongly guided by the government protocols; however, for our customer focus shall necessarily be on being more hospitable and humble. All actions would be guided on strong surveys on consumer expectations which would become more dynamic in nature. We would need to provide an environment where there should be complete peace of mind and added degree of assurance when consumers step out to watch a movie at our theatres.
With Cinema reaching out to young audiences and the bulk of our consumers being in the 18-40 age bracket, the ongoing vaccination drive in the country covering the younger population, gives us hope on ensuring the safety of this segment of our customer base. Winning customer trust is extremely crucial and continually sustaining them by providing value-added offerings would be the key.
What is the strategy and focus for the leadership to tackle challenges posed by the third wave? Could you shed light on the contingency plan for 2021 and PVR’s industry outlook for FY 2021-2022?
COVID-19 is a much larger issue than our industry as all businesses faced supply chain disruptions, a steep decline in consumption demand and investments. Besides, uncertainty in the informal sector and large cash flow gaps for corporates aggravated this challenge to a quick economic recovery. The outbreak of COVID-19 is subjecting India and the world to extreme stress and uncertainty. Amidst the tumult of this unprecedented period, the company’s priority has been to safeguard the health and well-being of its employees, customers, and communities at large while continuing the business operations with responsibility and care.
We have a robust loyalty program, PVR Privilege in place and we would continue to invest in this program and making it the most admired loyalty program in the country. We have the largest theatre network across India with a strong brand equity and an Asset-light model with no ownership of cinema premises. With customer service as its core value, the company will take stringent steps that adhere to its service policies such as enhancing the F&B menu, bringing global cinema technology for Indian customers, and offering attractive incentives and discounts for the patrons. The company conducts regular market surveys to stay on top of the upcoming and current market trends and will continue to adopt the latest technology to provide a premium movie-watching experience to its customers. The company’s strategy is to further expand its screen network, with a focus on increasing premium format composition in the portfolio. The company is dedicated to enhancing customer experience and delight through innovative offerings across different segments and enhance its box office and non-box office revenues.