GTP21: Connecting with colleagues through the pandemic

Sembcorp Energy UK

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2021 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2021 this involves 8 free online workshops taking place throughout March, and a virtual Growth Through People conference on 30th March. In addition, throughout the campaign the Chambers will be publishing thought leadership podcasts, videos and blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Headline Sponsors – Aston University, BMet College and the University of Birmingham’s Work Inclusivity Research Centre - all workshops are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more and register to attend Growth Through People workshops here, and the Growth Through People conference here.

As an operator of over 40 rapid-response power plants across England and Wales, it’s not uncommon for many of our engineers to work alone or in small teams. It’s an experience our wider workforce can now relate to with respect to working in isolation (in our control room or from home) during lockdown.

For colleagues usually based in our Solihull office, and at our Wilton International site on Teesside, most found themselves having to quickly adjust to working from home.

To ensure we stayed connected, our level of communications increased straight away – providing frequent updates on the UK’s pandemic response and its impact on our ways of working, the safety measures in place, and the support available to colleagues. We encouraged our people to share their experiences and to understand each other’s situations – reminding them that while social distancing meant limiting physical closeness, there were plenty of other ways we could stay ‘social’ – especially by regularly checking in with each other.

Those working from home had lost the usual camaraderie of the office and opportunities for spontaneous conversation. So, we, like many businesses, vastly increased our use of Zoom to stay in touch and collaborate with each other. People quickly made use of the virtual backgrounds feature, but luckily there were no reports of being unable to remove potato or cat filters! We’ve used video a lot more too, and our senior leadership team have recorded special “Monday Motivation” messages, advice on resilience and wellbeing, and a group “thank you” video was sent to all our colleagues at the end of the first lockdown.

As we started 2021 in the third lockdown, Andy Koss, CEO UK & Middle East, had another way to keep us connected – to personally call each of our 350 employees individually, as we did last year too. He prioritised our Field Service Engineers who maintain our fleet of fast-acting energy generation and battery storage assets that are controlled and monitored from our office in Solihull. Andy was joined on the calls by other members of our leadership team, including our Head of HR and Head of Operations.

The calls were a chance for our colleagues to have an informal chat, share how they were feeling, and talk about how the pandemic had impacted them both at work and at home. It was also a chance for our leadership team to directly say thank you again on behalf of the business.

Andy said: “Our operational teams had to adapt quickly to a new working environment, following Covid-safe procedures and new PPE measures, and they’ve been fantastic. It’s important for us to remember that during the lockdowns, when the government is asking many of us to stay at home to protect our health, key workers like our field service engineers are leaving their homes every day to go to work to help keep our operations running and the nation powered. This was especially important in January, when the cold weather and low wind levels meant our assets were critical to keeping the power system stable.”

Another vital focus throughout this time has been highlighting the importance of looking after our mental health and wellbeing. Through sending weekly Wednesday Wellbeing messages we were able to share tips and advice on where to access resources or support, and our teams have taken part in some more casual initiatives too, from their children sending in artwork for Sembcorp’s global competition, to simply sharing photos of their wintery wellbeing walks.

We don’t yet know when we’ll be back together for a catch up round the kettle, but we will certainly keep connected until then.

Amy Shaw
Communications & PR Officer
Sembcorp Energy UK