Covid Files

During the confinement period and emerging from lockdown, we have been speaking to HR and Talent Leaders across Europe to see how they have been managing Covid-related HR issues, and how they are planning Talent Acquisition to ramp up recovery. Find their thoughts and comments below:

 

Wolfgang Schiller, VP HR Communications, Ideal Standard International, Brussels

Which measures did Ideal Standard take from an HR perspective to keep operating during the lockdown?

From looking at the situation in March, when the lockdown seemed likely, I am rather proud of the speed at which we executed our plan; in early April we prepared for “short time” work, managed the ramp-down of our plants, and shifted all office-based white-collar staff company-wide to teleworking and 3 or 4-day weeks. It was a new experience for our HR team across the region, but they implemented it extremely well.

We introduced a Leadership contribution scheme, in which our senior team took a salary cut while continuing to work full-time. All temp agency and consulting agreements were stopped and all recruiting was halted as part of our efforts to protect the company.

Combining these measures with funding strong focus on cash management, we are in good shape and moving towards recovery.

What particular challenges has Ideal Standard faced through Covid-19?

We have similar issues to other companies including our competitors with a wide manufacturing footprint; underutilized factories have quite an impact on our overall profitability.

Also most of our customers’ warehouses were closed, so we couldn’t deliver stocks – we are B2B, so have store owners or DB’s as customers. We do not yet see a major impact on our business from a slowdown in construction, but it is not inconceivable that it will come. Our e-commerce business represents an opportunity for future growth – while fittings are well-suited to ecommerce, relatively few people buy bathroom ceramics on the web to install themselves.

What impact has the Covid-19 crisis had on your Talent Acquisition planning in the last months?

We have stopped recruiting, but there is relatively little overall impact; over the last couple of years we have upgraded our talent base, especially at the senior level, as well as in our Operations and Commercial departments.

What implications do you see for your resourcing needs due to the coronavirus? 

These months have been a test of strength for everybody – companies have discovered they must make changes in certain functions to survive. We expect to do more upgrading of the capabilities of our existing staff, such as additional technical training for our commercial teams.

How have you managed your messaging and internal communications across the region? How have you maintained employee motivation?

What works very well is that our CEO is very strong communicator, arranging regular video calls with all employees and bi-weekly leadership calls. This is also the case locally by the country leaders. This way all employees are kept informed as fully, personally and directly as possible.

What measures are in place for the return to work (or to the office)?

All our plants are operating again, albeit at reduced capacity. We have implemented strict guidelines on distancing, use of masks and hygiene.

The company has not been at a standstill; most of our colleagues have been working (from home) between 3-4 days per week, with only the senior leaders working Fridays.

A good performer has an intrinsic motivation, so doesn’t need a supervisor’s physical proximity. When I assign work to my team, I am confident of how they will perform; I am really happy about the way they maintained their productivity. Trust is key, and you need to be more clear about expectations of how to work together. I am strongly in favour of giving more freedom.

How do you view the next 6-12 months from an HR / TA perspective

We will remain conservative; as the business recovers we will revisit the question, but overall recruitment activities will remain at a low level.

Will the crisis make any lasting changes at Ideal Standard to the way people work, or the way they are allowed to work?

Yes, the amount of time which can be saved by not commuting is very encouraging. For example, commuting to our office in Brussels can be a nightmare, so I tell my team they don’t need to be in the office every day or they can arrive later, but when we have a meeting, I need them to come in. People shouldn’t be left to work solely from home, but getting more flexibility is very desirable for an employee, and makes an employer more attractive.

We have travel cost savings targets, so a regime of less travel is beneficial for us. We had made big investments in video tools, which were underutilized, but the recent experience has been overwhelmingly positive. One day of meetings sandwiched between 2 days of travel for 15 people can be achieved in a much more efficient way.

What have you been surprised by in a positive way from an HR/TA point of view?

I am very excited that we have been somewhat forced into a test of how to do things differently, and I am really passionate about using this as an opportunity to look at how to work differently together in the future. The model of everybody working in the office all day is a bit outdated, but changing it is all a question of trust.

My main takeaway is that this may strongly impact the leadership profiles of the future. This experience will make employees more demanding with respect to flexibility, but if you maintain your old-fashioned control-oriented leader profile, it will fail.

HR Director EMEA, Steelmaking Support

Which measures did your organization take from an HR perspective to keep operating during the lockdown?

Initially we focused on safety for our employees on site (office staff and operators) by enhancing our safety measures, enforcing social distancing and facilitating personal protective equipment.  At the same time, we started restricting access to all external personnel to ensure our employees were not exposed and as things gradually deteriorated, we restricted travel.  Finally, we mobilized our IT teams to ensure that everyone who could work from home had the necessary tools and internet access.

What particular challenges has your company faced through Covid-19?

The main issue we face is that our sales force needs to be present at the customer as we provide specialized support to their manufacturing processes.  With the travel restrictions in place and borders closed.  Most of our sales teams have had to adapt in order to virtually provide the support to the customer.

What impact has the Covid-19 crisis had on your Talent Acquisition planning in the last months (hiring freeze, slowdown, only replacements...)?

Most of the non-critical roles that we were recruiting have been put on hold as a company wide hiring freeze has been implemented.  However, there are a few key roles that we continue to recruit.

What will be the impact of the Corona virus on your Talent strategy over the next 12 months?

The main focus will be to ensure that we can retain the current talent we have in our ranks as motivation and engagement will be a big challenge as we adapt to the new reality of work.  We will continue to look for the best talent for our key roles that are vacant or have been created to support our business strategy.

What implications do you see for your resourcing needs due to the coronavirus? 

I believe things will be more or less back to normal in terms of recruitment but one thing that will change, for many roles, is that working remotely has been proven extensively as an option so we may not look to relocate people to some of our sites as we previously did.

How have you managed your messaging and internal communications across the region? How have you maintained employee motivation?  

There have been two key developments in this area, a weekly call with our CEO and senior leaders to review the current state of things as well as an internal newsletter detailing the major developments for the group.  On a regional and local level, senior leaders have engaged on weekly or even daily calls to ensure people remain engaged and connected to the business.

Are there ways in which your company has been able to contribute to the fight against Covid-19 (not necessarily financially)?

We have had several initiatives by local teams where we have supported local hospitals and health professionals with protective equipment, manufacturing alcohol-based disinfectant but more importantly, making sure every member and their families are informed and conscious of how they can contribute to stop the spread of the virus has been key.

What measures are in place for the return to work (or to the office)?

Social distancing and clear messages are key at every company site that is open.  We have provided the necessary protective equipment and instructions to ensure these measures are respected.

How do you view the next 6-12 months from an HR / TA perspective?

The biggest challenge I see is going to be related to the risk aversion many candidates will have due to the uncertainty of the current situation.  If we try to engage candidates who are currently employed, they may not be inclined in taking the risk of leaving their employer for another opportunity.

Will the crisis make any lasting changes at your company to the way people work, or the way they are allowed to work?

I believe it should as the office space as we know it needs to adapt for a mobile work force that has proven to be effective remotely.  We can definitely reconfigure our spaces to facilitate collaborative work and not necessarily for permanent physical presence.  Business travel as well should be reduced as we now know that not all meetings need to be in person.

What have you been surprised by in a positive way from an HR point of view?

The solidarity everyone has shown to make personal sacrifices to help their colleagues.  Either by sacrificing salary, bonus or working time in order to save employment, it is a very strong message that we are all together in this.

What are you most looking forward to in the coming months?

I am looking forward to embracing a new way of working and to learn how this challenging period has had an impact on the way we do things.  Every day there will be more and more stories about innovation and progress that we would have not imagined before this crisis.

What changes will you make to the way you live or work after things get back to normal?

My work was already remote and virtual in a very high percentage before the crisis but it will definitely change in the way we collaborate with the rest of the organization going forward.

HR Leader - Industrial Manufacturing, Tyres (Italy)

Which measures did your organization take from an HR perspective to keep operating during the lockdown?

  • Our business and HR processes already operate with Agile methodologies, so we only halted production and logistics operations. The other departments continued to work from home.
  • We have made heavy investments in IT infrastructure so have the advantange of a good level in “digitalization”.
  • Internal communication on daily basis with operating and positive information.

What particular challenges has the company faced through Covid-19? Any challenges specific to the Covid situation in Italy?

  • In Italy we did not have the time to monitor the progression of the pandemic in neighbouring countries – we had to organize an immediate shutdown. This obviously meant a high level of stress in our workforce. We have concentrated our efforts on constant – daily - internal communication with positive information.

What impact has the Covid-19 crisis had on your Talent Acquisition (TA) planning in the last months (hiring freeze, slowdown, only replacements...?)

  • Perhaps surprisingly, not a great deal until now; at the beginning of June we hired a Mechanical Designer selected during the lockdown time.

What will be the impact of the Corona virus on your Talent strategy over the next 12 months?

  • We are now facing some problems in our market so I presume that we will move into a hiring freeze.

What measures are in place for the return to work (or to the office)?

  • We are following a strict set of guidelines mandated by the government, which include all the widely known safeguarding measures. We are close to having 100% of the workforce back in the office.
  • We have a working group comprising HSE, Unions and HR which meets weekly to discuss developments and concerns in the workforce.

How do you view the next 6-12 months from an HR / TA perspective?

  • Emerging from the crisis, I think that our task in HR will be 100% devoted to employee relations, in order to manage the high stress levels across all departments.
  • The crisis has increased the focus on HR as a problem-solver partner to the business and the workforce.

Will Covid-19 make any lasting changes at Your organization to the way people work, or the way they are allowed to work? (eg more teleworking, less/more travel, more reliance on IT tools, other...)

  • Not really; our agile working principles mean that outside of production and logistics, most staff already have the flexibility to work where they wish.