What leaders think
CEO UK and Middle East, Sembcorp Industries
What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?
I have been with the business for 6 months and, with the senior management team, we have just concluded on our priority projects for the next 2 years as part of a strategic transformation of the business.
We managed to have a number of socially distanced face to face workshops when we kicked this work off, but have had to conclude the work virtually since the lockdown in January. Thankfully, we were pretty much aligned before the final sign off meeting, which we did online.
Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?
We are rapidly approaching a year of lockdown and I worry that many colleagues, particularly those working from home, are losing their connection to the business. We are working hard to ensure communications remain strong across the business, but the opportunities for “corridor conversations” and informal catch-ups have been few and far between over the last 12 months.
We have had 2 national lockdowns and a range of regional tier variations over many months. In what way has your approach to these lockdowns / tier restrictions permanently influenced your own way of working and will you make any adjustments now we are in a 3rd lockdown?
There are probably two key changes for me. Firstly, I have realised the importance of regular contact with the team, both on a one to one basis and collectively as a team. When you are not seeing people in the office, making time to catch up with colleagues becomes a priority. Secondly, I have really welcomed having some flexibility to go for a run or walk during daylight hours, particularly in the third lockdown!
Given the reliance on technology during lockdowns, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/workforce transformation in the short-medium term?
Absolutely. As has been widely commented on, we had to prove to ourselves very quickly that we could work remotely and utilise the technology available. I think this has been an unqualified success and it is hard to see how we will go back to the old ways of working as we return to normality.
I also think that flexible working has now been widely accepted and is no longer seen by managers as a less productive way of working. We have had to trust our teams to continue to deliver whilst working remotely and I believe that trust has been fully justified.
What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?
Our Operations teams have had to adjust to a Covid-secure way of working for nearly 12 months now and there are many new practices that have helped with our approach to safety more generally.
In the offices, we are reviewing a new flexible working policy as we look forward to a return to normality and I suspect, like many others, that we will see a mix of home working and office working, with the latter being used for collaborative / creative activities.
There is a dramatic reduction in carbon footprints during lockdowns, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?
We are in the energy space, so decarbonisation is our business! What has been pleasing is that the Government has continued to focus on the UK’s Net Zero targets, with the publication of the 10 Point Plan and the Energy White Paper.
At Sembcorp, we are looking to rapidly decarbonise our operations across the world and our customers are also pushing hard for our support to help them. At Teesside, we have an excellent opportunity to deliver carbon capture and storage and low carbon hydrogen as part of the Government’s aspirations and a lot of our focus will be on this during 2021.
In terms of personal well-being, what changes have you made and will you stick to them post lockdown?
I have enjoyed getting out for a run during the week, although on fewer occasions than I would like. Through the lockdown, I have come to appreciate spending time outdoors and I am lucky living in York and being close to the river.
I have also really enjoyed being able to have meals with my family, which has never happened before! I hope to stick to that, but suspect it will slip as I head back to the office.
Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)
It is a cliché, but watching the news every evening and seeing how the frontline NHS teams have been dealing with this pandemic day in, day out is truly inspirational.
Watching my wife trying to home school our 10 year old son has also been an inspiration. Resilience in the face of adversity!
How did you spend Christmas?
It was just the four of us at home. I would say it was restful, but we succumbed to the kids’ pleas to get a puppy and he kept us on our toes over Christmas.
Any words of wisdom?
There is light at the end of the tunnel.