A year ago, could you imagine both doing your job and looking after the children at home? And you probably never thought you’d be trying to work perched on a bar stool with a kitchen tabletop as your desk. And who hasn’t been challenged by meetings where you’re expected to be online and on camera for several hours a day, while possibly struggling with a bad Internet connection? And that feeling of isolation not being able to physically meet and interact with colleagues?

This whole new way of working was not a choice but a necessity that required us all to adapt as best and as fast as we could. Ruth Bastian is HBK’s Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO). We asked her how the challenges faced by employer and employees have changed the way of thinking at corporate and management level.

As we prepare to enter a new era of work, what will change?

As we re-enter the workplace, our employees will be looking for us to embrace the new ways of working that we have established over the past year and to allow a more flexible, hybrid approach to balancing work and home to become the norm. Most workers in an increasing number of research studies recently published are citing their expectation that they can prioritize lifestyle, including family and personal interests over proximity to work and pursue jobs in locations where they can focus on both. Or the bigger pull is to have the option to work remotely as it has been clearly established that productivity is about what you deliver and not where you deliver it from.

 With on-site, online and hybrid workplaces the new norm, will this affect the new employer-employee relationship?

The relationship will change between employer and employee as the need to find purpose and meaning in work has become more important in a way we have not seen before. COVID-19 has meant that we have had to step back and question the contribution that employees make, and how it brings meaning to them and the organization.

Managers need to become comfortable with managing teams remotely on a permanent basis and not just in a crisis. Trust will have to be in place to make hybrid working a success and this will take time to build. The need for clear communication and setting of expectations through meaningful goals is more important than ever to provide the security to both the employer and employee, so that this new way of working will be a success.

What has HBK learned about the culture of its business – the good, the bad, and the ugly?

HBK has learnt that our people are resilient and when faced with a challenge can adapt and find a way to be successful despite setbacks. We are very proud of the significant effort that our people have made to overcome supply chain issues, availability of materials and uncertainty in our global markets to meet our commitments to our customers.

Our Operations and Production teams have been working throughout the pandemic and have not had the opportunity to work flexibly, so we have had to adapt their working environment in line with COVID-19 restrictions and the additional safety measures we have put in place to keep the operation running smoothly. The people in our business are an adaptable bunch and we are grateful to everyone for pulling together and using the digital tools available to interact with those in different regions/teams to collaborate successfully.

How can we meet employees’ growing mental and emotional health needs including the anxiety some employees might feel about returning to work?

The role of the manager is becoming increasingly important in managing mental health and any anxiety associated with returning to the office. We recommend regular talks about how people are feeling with a phased transition plan if appropriate to start to take the necessary steps to re-orientate employees back into the workplace. Once these regular check-ins have been in place, you might start by going in to meet colleagues for coffee and then progressing to being there for a meeting. Each person will react very differently to this return phase, so we must be sensitive to their situation. Our HR teams are on hand to provide guidance if necessary.

Will we physically redesign the work environment? Will social distancing remain?

We started a project in 2020 to consolidate office space. This came on the back of the merger and has continued with the insight gained over the past year about the new reality of office working. The pandemic has accelerated the digitalization aspect of the project by proving that working from home is a viable permanent option for smaller locations. Consolidation projects have been completed for 20 sites to date leading to closure of some of our smaller locations with no disruption to business continuity.

For our larger locations, HBK is modernizing offices and re-examining how we use the space to encourage more networking and cross-functional working. This entails flexible hot desking, focus on collaboration spaces as opposed to single offices and lower capacity (as some employees will be working from home). Good examples are HBK Copenhagen, HBK Paris and HBK Michigan.

Digital collaboration tools allow us to leverage the full breadth of the Microsoft® applications that HBK has already invested in utilizing tools such as Teams, Planner and PowerBI to share and manage information across the organization.