Has Covid-19 given businesses a push to make change! Jim O’Brien HR Director Northern Europe at Aramark gives us his valuable insight on the subject.

 byLorraine Bolger.
 Published: 20/07/2020

Working from home, which, if done right, has the potential to advance work-life balances. This new way of working is more flexible — a benefit we need to maintain for sure, but we must not miss this opportunity to pass us by without reflecting on what we have learnt about ourselves and our businesses.

After four months of lockdown and as we make plans to return to our offices where possible what nuggets of information and new strengths will we bring with us!

Jim O’Brien HR Director Northern Europe at Aramark gives us his valuable insight on the subject:

As we experiment with new ways of working, leaders have the opportunity to rewrite the playbook, what would you rewrite!

Working almost exclusively through digital platforms like Teams and Zoom in recent months has driven unhelpfully high degrees of task orientation and less genuine human connection. We should relish the opportunity to physically connect again and we should use that time wisely, not in going through rote tasks that can be done remotely but by promoting debate, discussion and collaboration. We need to connect people outside of their day-to-day boundaries and reengage a workforce that has spent too much time in awkward meetings interrupted by technical connection challenges and not enough time in dialogue.

What have been the two biggest challenges?

Firstly, the volatility with constantly changing situations and rules almost every week which needed to be integrated into new ways of working. We have large numbers of employees servicing healthcare, defence, essential services and essential manufacturing clients who remained open right through the crisis. It was vitally important that those employees were safe and able to do their jobs.

Secondly, robust well-grounded decisions needed to be made quickly despite the volatility and the geographic dispersal of the decision makers. We had to establish new ways of working rapidly and many people have worked incredibly hard to keep the show on the road. 

If any what have been the two most positive?

(1)    Similar to what we saw in the last major recession, some people have massively stepped up and emerged as phenomenal leaders and contributors. I’d put the HR function front and centre of that observation. We are lucky enough to have some highly committed and talented people and they have done some great things that have made a huge difference to our people.

(2)    Crisis necessitates innovation to survive and we have seen parts of our business reinvent their service offering radically to bolster revenue and support our clients.

What factors feature in your business now that did not feature three months ago?

There are people connecting remotely who would not have done so previously as part of virtual international teams. There are also people who have done activities way outside their day job to help in crisis. These are major positives and we need to retain those relationships, learnings and the creative energy to work very flexibly. 

What would you like to see happening in the next few months?

I really hope that we adjust to a “new normal”. Currently, a lot of people seem to want to withdraw from society and hope that Covid-19 passes over quickly. This isn’t a healthy approach and is economically catastrophic. However, not learning behavioural change and adopting safety protocols is risky and inappropriate as we have seen in some limited sectors of society. There is a sensible and vital middle ground. We need to adjust our behaviours and apply sensible proportionate risk management principles founded on facts. This is not the time for Ireland or indeed Europe more broadly to go into a form of hibernation.