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44 (139) 2020

Coping with the New Normal - Covid-19 and after

Resilience means excellence. How to help teams in the new normal

By Shell Polska
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Using its wide range of resilience programmes and experience in virtual team-management, Shell in Poland has remained fully operational during the pandemic. Covid-19 highlighted the simple truth that mature organisations treat their employees as partners rather than as a means to achieve their business goal. As business is heading towards a new normal, this lesson will be crucial for companies that want to create a vibrant, cooperative workplace.

Strong teams remain crucial

According to research carried out by Pracuj.pl, 63% of employees in Poland declare that they are as effective working remotely as they are in the office. However, only 44% claim that their managers have provided them with specific instructions about working from home during the pandemic. Four out of ten respondents were afraid that they will lose their job in the upcoming months. Results? 77% of them were ready to accept a new job offer. These facts & figures show the importance of resilience programmes and well-organised communication with employees in the ‘new normal’.

The situation on the job market might be hazy, but still, employers should be very sensitive to the need to maintaining talented staff. This means supporting their team in dealing with new circumstances. This statement will be extremely important in the business operations sector. According to the latest report by ABSL, this sector employs 338,000 people in Poland and this number should increase to 363,000 by the end of the first quarter of 2021. Despite the coronavirus crisis, 77% of business operations centres plan to increase employment this year – including 41% declaring a headcount increase of over 10%.

Instant switch in Shell

“In the face of the uncertain further course of the pandemic, the ability to maintain a strong, supportive team will be crucial. Shell directly employs almost 4,500 people in Poland, 98% of whom have been working remotely since 16 March. However, the decision to return to regular office work may turn out to become even more difficult than the one to switch to remote work. In this context, it is important to keep an open mind and to make decisions along with the dynamics of the situation. We managed to move to a remote model thanks to the appropriate technological facilities and mature corporate culture. This is a lesson that is also worth learning. Implementation of infrastructure that supports people in carrying out routine tasks is key in this process. It helps teams to free their time for creative work, despite the new business context,” says Piotr Dziwok, country chair of Shell Companies in Poland.

Staff at Shell retail sites also worked throughout the lockdown, ensuring appropriate safety conditions and acting according to well-defined operating principles. At the same time, we recommended remote office work for our office workers, but the company’s business processes remained fully functional and teams operated smoothly the despite numerous challenges that business operations centres had to face since the beginning of the pandemic. Shell achieved this thanks to its international experience, including the day-by-day implementation of global business operations projects. Remote-working tools have been used at Shell for years, and virtual teams are a daily reality for many of its employees. However, operational excellence is only one aspect, while there are other challenges that employees face in the new situation. These relate to effective organisation of work, access to appropriate tools, and above all, maintaining resilient and balance in the face of a completely new work-life set up.

“The experience of operating during the pandemic strengthened our conviction that having resilience programs strongly embedded in the company operating model is very important. It is a key enabler to support employees in combining their wellbeing, while delivering strong business outcomes and staying motivated to perform. There are many proof points of that. Looking at companies who best coped with the COVID-19 crisis, strong emphasis on this field of employee relations could be observed. These aspects of employees’ well-being and its relation to strong business results will continue being one of the key leavers for the organizations. As they will look towards the ‘new normal’ – with all its complexities and uncertainty – we all will be learning how to adapt to it,” says Agnieszka Pocztowska, general manager in Shell Business Operations Kraków.

Real support matters

In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, Shell in Poland was secured in the technological aspects of work, as were its employees. The software and systems used by Shell before the pandemic were already enabling remote working. However, the company wanted to ensure employees are also equipped with the hardware IT aspects, supporting healthy and convenient work conditions while away from the office, such as stationary monitors, mice or keyboards. Employees were given the opportunity to pick these items from the office and use them while working at home.

Equally important for Shell was the recognition of impact that long-term work from home may have on mental health. The traditional split between work and private life space suddenly disappeared and it got difficult with all the roles of being and employee, parent, partner, suddenly mixed.

“That is why, from the early epidemic stage in mid-March, we extended our programmes for employees, addressing the themes of mental health, dealing with stress and anxiety, accepting the change. The engagements are delivered via webinars. We also conduct virtual workshops for team leaders in the field of effective leadership and managing change. Over 600 employees and 120 managers took part in the first round of these initiatives between March and May.  Also, each of our employees has access to dedicated support within our Employee Assistance Programme, which was launched few years back. It provides dedicated help from psychologists and business coaches in difficult personal situations, says Ms Pocztowska.

The One Week Level Up initiative can be considered as another interesting idea for keeping the employee community connected and engaged after switching into remote work. The activity, which is deployed on the virtual Shell SBO Krakow Yammer platform, invites employees to share examples of how they cope with resilience, sustainability, care, health, while working from home. Contests from fields of cooking, sport, health or hobbies generated over 3,000 views on the forum in just few weeks, supporting many employees in dealing with isolation and lack of social interaction.

Crucial lessons

According to the latest Gartner survey of HR Leaders, 64% of them are prioritising employee experience more highly now than before the coronavirus outbreak. To effectively choreograph the return to the workplace, HR leaders need to create new ‘employee journey maps’ to identify and manage the moments that matter most to employees upon re-entry into the workplace. The return to the workplace is not just an operational challenge, but also a human challenge.

The new normal is becoming the new reality that we all are stepping into, and the opportunity arises to discover new ways to support teams in their everyday challenges. How can we achieve that result? Companies should combine the implementation of hard tools and technologies supporting employees with the awareness of the impact of daily work in rapidly changing conditions on teams’ well-being. Shell’s experience shows that companies should design strong, verified business procedures to ensure business continuity, regardless of where the tasks are performed. Businesses that started taking these actions only after the outbreak of the pandemic had considerable difficulties maintaining high-quality work. At the same time, experience shows that soft factors are also an important condition for successful change. Technological and procedural improvements should be supplemented with mental support for the team – which is easier to implement when care for employees is already deeply rooted in the company's culture.

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