Phil Read, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Tetra Pak, shares insights on how we are adapting our ways of working amidst the COVID-19 crisis and how protecting employees is paramount.
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our lives dramatically. In the last few months, we have witnessed significant changes in our day to day activities, not only in our personal sphere but also the workplace where we spend most of our time. Like any other global organisation, for us at Tetra Pak, it meant adapting our ways of working, and addressing a wide variety of topics, ranging from the health and safety of employees, to keeping them committed and motivated.
Right from the outset, our first priority was to protect people, starting with our own employees. We were one of the first companies in the world to initiate, together with our collaborators Sodexo and CBRE, a completely new hygiene and cleaning regime for all our facilities, in late January/ early February.
This was quickly complemented by employee education campaigns to raise awareness of the possible transmission routes the virus may take, best-practice hygiene standards that we should follow to keep ourselves and our colleagues safe, restrictions on travel, strict quarantining, contact tracing, physical distancing regulations, and use of protective equipment.
We have over 25,000 employees with sales in over 160 countries, each with their own specific requirements, emphasising the need for a balanced and flexible approach. With that in mind, we have been providing global guidance and frameworks to all our markets, to ensure our employees are well protected, based on our scientific understanding and medical advice received. For example – different governments have different “physical distancing” requirements (ranging from 1 metre to 2 metres); therefore our global standard is 2 metres. Similarly, different governments have different regulations on the length of quarantine (ranging from 7 days to 14 days); therefore our global standard is 14 days. We have also given freedom to our local sites and markets to communicate and respond to the situation on the ground.
We have been constantly assessing the risk levels in different countries (low, medium and high) based on the data (daily case rates, growth rates, death rates, recovery rates etc.) to ensure that our decisions are proportionate, and can be sustained over time. Associated with each risk level is a series of protocols covering working from home, travel restrictions, hygiene procedures, visitor procedures, and so on.
We have tried to balance the mind and the heart in our decisions. We have followed evidence, science, and medicine – but also tried to support the employees in a number of practical and emotional ways. For example, implementing a set of policies to deal with difficulties in travel, in child-care, in quarantining from at-risk relatives. We have had a massive communication campaign from the beginning to ensure our employees have the latest information on what we are doing as a company, and what we expect from our employees, including extensive Q&A, numerous webcasts with our leadership team, regular updates on our intranet sites, and motivational stories about how we are serving society by keeping food supply chains running. In addition, we have had in place since March, a global 24/7 external employee assistance program dedicated to COVID-19 to provide employees with emotional support and advice in time of need.
As a result of the actions, such as travel restrictions and working from home, that Tetra Pak and governments have taken to protect people, we have had to learn new ways of working. It has been an exciting journey, and it is clear that many of the practices we have developed out of necessity will be useful practices well beyond the COVID-19 era.
Following various travel restrictions and lockdowns, the number of employees working from home has spiked beyond what we have ever experienced before. We’ve gone from having around 2,000 people connecting remotely on a daily basis to having roughly 70% of employees connecting remotely in many geographies. Working together with our Global Information Management teams, we have continued to improve our IT capabilities to maintain productivity and support this new way of working.
We already had a lot of remote supervisors and employees in many parts of the world. Now people are de facto remote, and with this experience, our managers are getting better at it, in terms of keeping in touch as well as delivering on priorities. This will serve as a good springboard, driving more creative and productive ways of working in the future.
On the HR front, we are continuing with hiring, but instead of face to face interviews, we’re using video interviewing tools and online assessments, working together with hiring managers to make decisions on people without having physically met them, and onboarding them using virtual processes.
Our focus on training remains, in order to develop our employees for the long run. We recently set up LinkedIn Learning, with rapid uptake since January. We’re also converting many of our classroom programmes to digital solutions, so people can keep learning.
Furthermore, we have modified the ways in which we provide support to our customers. We have been providing remote maintenance support; we have been organising virtual visits at our Customer Innovation Centres; we have run virtual trials of new products at our Product Development Centres; we have even made virtual deals with customers we have never met before – all of which have generated positive responses from our customers.
In our supply chain we have completed our first virtual installation of equipment (in Beijing) using a sophisticated set-up with access cameras, a network hub and smart glasses to facilitate remote installation co-ordinated from Sweden.
It is quite clear that the workplace is evolving at a rate higher than anything we have seen before.
Overall, during the last three very intense months, we have had to be very quick on our feet, and learning everyday. However, my overwhelming feeling is that of pride, that I share with my Tetra Pak colleagues - pride in a company that provides an essential service for society, and pride in a company that even in the most stressful of situations lives its values and has taken extreme care to protect and support its people. I feel a renewed sense of purpose of making food safe and available everywhere, and continuing to deliver on our promise to protect what’s good.