Adapting to new modalities

Working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic
18 August 2020
Virtual E-LCI Q&A session facilitated by the Global Logistics Cluster Training Team

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased need for cooperation, the Logistics Cluster has adapted work practices to maintain an unbroken assistance to its ongoing operations. This has meant providing remote support in scenarios where teams would traditionally deploy to the field. While the first series of Gaps and Needs Analyses (GNA) were conducted at a distance, trainings have shifted to online live sessions and colleagues have joined the cluster through cohesive online platforms.

A new layer of complexity in emergencies 

Logistics is key to an effective emergency response. Despite the lockdown, partners still have to figure out how to move critical health items from one point to the other. A pandemic brings about scores of novel logistical constraints that range from importing humanitarian aid when borders are closing to transporting cargo within the country. In this context, the GNA, through a consultative process with partners at headquarter, regional and field level, evaluates the needs on the ground based on common logistics gaps for the delivery of aid in a specific country or context. The recommendations formulated are then used as a basis for conducting joint advocacy efforts and to address common logistics challenges. 

To lead this exercise, Logistics Cluster desk officers usually go on site in order to meet logistics counterparts face to face, visit key sites, and get a more accurate feeling of the situation on the ground. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a layer of complexity to current emergencies and GNA assessments are increasingly being requested in countries where there is a need for humanitarian logistics coordination mechanisms and common services to handle the large amounts of lifesaving items coming down the pipeline.
 
Over the past months, the process has been driven through questionnaires and follow-up calls with partners to ensure a clear understanding of logistics bottlenecks. “The main challenge of a remote GNA”, says Logistics Officer Patrick Baudry, “is to correctly capture all pieces of information while being physically far from partners and the situation in the field. It has been a new experience, but I think we have been successful in grappling the key challenges in countries, saving time and costs in the process.” Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, eight new GNAs were conducted in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Libya and Sudan.

Building capacities live online

In addition, the Logistics Cluster has been focusing on strengthening its online learning platform through interactive Q & A sessions aiming at increasing engagement between participants and understanding of Logistics Cluster mechanisms. Seven E-Logistics Cluster Induction (LCI) sessions were organized since the beginning of May, bringing together 347 people from 135 different organisations in 68 different countries (highlight figures as quote on the blog page). Furthermore, the Logistics Cluster is currently exploring and testing new training modalities to further enhance user experience, such as Virtual Reality

 

The beauty of the in-person Logistics Cluster trainings is more than the training material itself, but also the community that the trainings build. This is what we were at risk of losing with traditional online learning, so we decided to create live events in order to create virtual spaces where we can facilitate conversations and dialogue”, Julie Kuras, Global Logistics Cluster Training Officer, Italy

 
During these live sessions, participants worked together in break-out groups to discuss key topics.

This session provided me with a much deeper understanding of the overall Logistics Cluster activation and operations. It exposed me to a network of experts and professionals in the Humanitarian Sector from around the globe. We had an incredible session with excellent facilitation exchanging our experiences and knowledge.” Yar Mohammad Frotan Senior Logistics Associate, WFP, Afghanistan

 
Remote onboarding
 
Another challenge faced during this period was the onboarding of new staff, many of whom were hired specifically for the scale-up of cluster support in response to COVID-19. Trying to provide new colleagues with a feeling of the working environment when they are in different countries, in their homes far away from their duty stations and offices can require a lot of imagination. To help them familiarise themselves with the Logistics Cluster mandate, understand available tools and different roles and responsibilities within the team, five onboarding sessions for Logistics Cluster field and headquarters staff were facilitated through an online collaborative platform.

A cluster is very much a field and hands-on mechanism. Keeping or creating the momentum can be particularly challenging in these confusing times and that’s why the role of the Logistics Cluster staff is crucial. Through the sessions we had the possibility to talk about the practicalities of remote coordination or information management and the adjustment of the operations to the COVID-19 context. We are all in this together”, Lila Ricart, Global Logistics Cluster Training Officer, Italy.

 
A lasting phenomenon?
 
Despite the obstacles posed by lockdown and the emergence of new working modalities, remote working can foster creativity and paradoxically increase interactions and engagement. As new needs arise across operations, it is crucial that we continue to be agile and consult with partners in-country to identify the most pressing logistics challenges and respond to them. The multiplication of regular interactive training sessions with partners around the globe are a part of this effort. While onboarding colleagues at a distance has become the new norm, we also need to anticipate that this may become a lasting phenomenon. On the horizon, the Global Logistics Cluster is organising its first online Global Meeting on 21-22 October. This format will allow for a larger number of participants and some of the sessions will therefore be open to any logistics practitioners of humanitarian organisations who wish to attend. Perhaps the first of a long series?

To learn more about the Logistics Cluster’s trainings visit our dedicated page here