Joris Blommaerts, Chief HR Officer EMEIA - Sumitomo Drive Technologies

Which measures did Sumitomo Drive Technologies take from an HR perspective to keep operating during the lockdown?

As soon as the first signals of a covid-19 outbreak became apparent in Europe, we switched to smart working/working from home for all of our office staff. For our colleagues who could not work from home, we provided facemasks, sanitising hand gels, wipes for cleaning keyboards and telephones… We increased the cleaning and sanitizing of our facilities. On top of this, we made sure that social distancing was possible in all the areas in our factories. We changed the layout of the changing rooms and the canteen, we enforced a maximum number of people in each room... We changed shift patterns where possible so people could take care of their children who were suddenly at home during lockdown. Extra flexibility in terms of office hours helped our employees to combine all the tasks that were expected of them… Finally, we increased the frequency of our meetings with our unions to keep the finger on the pulse and to be able to take additional measures quickly and with the buy in of all our stakeholders. We also intensified the communication to our employees on suspected infections in order to reduce panic and avoid rumours. Especially during the first days this was very important. Our approach worked and we were able to keep operating for the entire period.

What particular challenges has Sumitomo Drive Technologies faced through Covid-19?

There were many… In the beginning, there was a lot of pressure from some of our employees to stop production. People were afraid to come to work. Our illness rate skyrocketed. On the other side, some colleagues still needed to be convinced that it was not just a seasonal flu. We needed to stop some very ingrained habits (like shaking hands) which was for some people not easy. Gradually everybody saw the need for these measures and we now even have a lower illness rate than normal. Luckily, we had stocked up facemasks and sanitizer before the beginning of the crisis, but after a while we had problems replenishing our stock. We managed to get additional masks through our colleagues in the group in Asia. Solidarity and the spirit of ‘getting it done’ has really emerged during these difficult times.

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

In the beginning of the crisis we didn’t have a severe impact yet. In the meantime many of our customers are going through tough times, which means we are also starting to feel the impact. This means we look very critically to all open positions. We are still investing (especially now), but very focused, aimed at these areas which are critical for our future growth. What will be the impact of the Corona virus on your Talent strategy over the next 12 months? At this time the future is very uncertain. Nobody can predict when the crisis will be over and how severe the consequences will be. This is why we are very careful. Nevertheless, we do know that we will have quite some (early) retirements coming up in our group, so we need to plan for a proper succession.

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

No change.

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

We have intensified our communication with all our internal stakeholders. We had periodical corona crisis team meetings. In these meetings the general topics were discussed and communicated. Through our intranet, we updated the organisation on a daily basis of the number of infections or people that had to be tested (luckily not a lot) and countermeasures in place. We also encouraged managers to have regular team meetings to discuss the status and to provide a forum for employees to raise any topic. We stressed the fact that we were one of the few companies that remained open in the early days of the crisis and the fact that we were very proud and thankful for the resilience of our people. Our general managers were insisting on being present in the factory and available for their people…

Are there ways in which Sumitomo Drive Technologies has been able to contribute to the fight against Covid-19?

Our products are used in many essential applications, ranging from energy, over waste water treatment to medical industries (a.o. respirators). We are very proud that we were able to continue to supply our customers and in this way contribute to keeping the essential industries running. We also printed some headsets for face shields on our 3D printer and donated them to the local hospital.


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

We will keep the current measures in place. This means less people in each office, bigger distance between the desks, keep doors open so people don’t need to touch the door handles, more space in the dressing rooms and the canteen.

Will the crisis make any lasting changes at Sumitomo Drive Technologies to the way people work, or the way they are allowed to work?

Our way of working will definitely change. Even though we were already working on flexible working, digitalization etc, all of these discussions accelerated. Teleworking will be the new normal, albeit that we also need to consider the disadvantages. We will keep a minimum of presence in the office in order to keep a strong connection between colleagues. MS Teams calls cannot replace the informal conversations at the coffee machine. We will certainly continue our efforts to work paperless and digitalize our processes. And I hope we can keep the agility and the way most of our people embraced the changes.

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

I was positively surprised by the speed at which telework was adopted. After months of discussions about technical issues and who would be eligible for telework, we were thrown from one day to another into this new reality. Our people have been very resilient and open for this new way of working. Also in our factories people understood quickly that a change was needed. Sometimes work became harder, but nobody complained, adapted their way of working and helped each other out. Our core values are ‘customer first’, ‘passionate about technology’, ‘respect’ and ‘embrace change’. These VUCA circumstances have really given us the opportunity to show that we actually are living these values.

To conclude:

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

I have started traveling again last week of June and I must say that even though we managed to work together well by videocalls, I have enjoyed my first Italian coffee at the coffee machine and my first dinner with colleagues after all these months… The personal contact I have missed a lot over the past couple of months. I also look forward to the moment where we can say this crisis is over and we can celebrate in one way or another that we have managed to manoeuvre through this crisis and come out stronger.

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

I will definitely appreciate the small things in life more. Playing table tennis with my son in the garden or playing a boardgame with my daughter. Working from home will also be a new standard in my life. The time I gain while not having to commute, I will spend on some quality time with my family.