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The Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview: Tea Colaianni

2 Minute Interview with Tea Colaianni
Chair & Founder of WiHTL – Diversity in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure and Diversity in Retail
SID – Watches of Switzerland plc
NED – DWF Group plc and SD Worx NV

What is the biggest challenge you & your boards had to tackle this week?

Sitting on boards in Retail, Professional Services and HR services as well as WiHTL – Diversity in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure, brings a very varied set of challenges as you can imagine. The biggest has probably been addressing the uncertainty with the UK lockdown timelines and when the possibilities of re-opening might occur. Scenario analysis has been at the front and centre of many calls these past few weeks, to ensure we consider all options. Despite the impressive vaccine roll-out in the UK and reduction in cases, we settled on a very cautious approach due to the unpredictability of the recovery and new variants.

Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?

In recent months, we have spent a lot of time thinking about succession planning. I have led the search of two chair roles, which during lockdown has involved remote interviews and onboarding.

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 have you made or will you make any further adjustments now we are in a 3rd lockdown?

Selfcare, without a doubt. After the intense experience of Lockdown 1.0 and 2.0 I chose to take a proper break during Christmas, with very little involvement from work. The break reinvigorated me but it also made me realise I haven’t prioritised my personal wellbeing. Hence, at the beginning of January I signed up to a 21 day Self Care programme. This covers aspects such as establishing healthy eating habits, fresh air and movement, ensuring that on a daily basis I interact with friends and family amongst many other subtle changes aiming to put myself at the top of my priority list.

One question at the beginning of this programme stood out for me: Who are you speaking to apart from immediate family and colleagues through work? That one question made me realise that I need to regularly reach out to all the people I care about. I get so much energy from such interactions. I have built some new habits in my working day to ensure I don’t spend 10+ hours in back-to-back zoom calls!

Given the increased reliance on technology during lockdowns, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/workforce transformation in the short-medium term? How?

We are experiencing many of the same things as you reference. While some people are keen to leave their house and return to a pre-pandemic workplace, there are many who do not want to return to work a 5-day week in the office. I expect our offices will become hubs for collaboration, creativity and social interactions with a hybrid working model. Technology has kept us connected and productive over the last 12 months. Some leaders have been able to strengthen their culture in a wholly digital world with some impressive improvements in their workforce’s engagement, others have not been able to leverage the opportunity to connect with the wider workforce and are still wrestling to evolve their culture and seem unable to step change it.

What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?

New ways of working have taken shape, exactly where they will land permanently remains uncertain of course. In one organisation they have adopted a strict rule of no internal meetings before 10am and after 4pm with a lunch break at 13.00, to give everybody time to think, catch up with work and for working parents an opportunity to have lunch with their children and a break from back-to-back zoom calls. They stick to that rigorously due to the amount of time we all spend on VC calls currently. I tried to squeeze in a call with the CEO of this particular organisation after 4pm, the PA was having none of it!

These work habits may of course change again once we return to normal of some kind, but I am certain it will be a hybrid for the better. In another organisation, they have decided that international travel will not resume any time soon as being on a long-haul flight just to attend a few hours meeting is not going to happen again. What I am convinced will also stay is an acceptance that employees require flexibility, that leaders need to genuinely show awareness of and empathy for individual situations and everybody’s wellbeing.

In terms of personal well-being, what changes have you made and will you stick to them post lockdown?

It’s been eight weeks since I started my self-care programme and surprisingly, I am keeping up my new healthy habits. Preparing food from scratch, a largely plant based diet, keeping in touch with family and friends, going for long walks with a friend along the stunning beach on my doorstep and indulging in some pampering have become part of my daily and weekly routine. I am determined to keep it all up.

Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)

This one is very personal: my mum! She is 83 and lives on her own in the South of Italy. She has been through three lockdowns being completely independent and is always full of energy and an absolute inspiration. She is an avid reader and since Christmas she has written a 200 pages book about our family stories and memories for all of us and future generations. She has been an artist since she was a little girl and her recent paintings are absolutely marvellous. She has worked out how to use Facebook, WhatsApp and facetime although she complains about how complicated all this technology is! She has this unique ability to inject enthusiasm, energy and positivity with an incredible zest for life.

What was your motivation for creating WiHTL?

Being a woman and living in a country where I wasn’t born have made me develop a profound empathy for those who belong to an underrepresented group in the working environment and a desire to support anybody whatever their circumstances go as far as their talent and ambition will take them. WiHTL is a collaboration community I have set up across hospitality, travel and leisure with the objective of making a positive impact to 5 million women and people from an ethnic minority background globally by 2025. It is a very ambitious mission, and the Community’s work already impacts over 2.2 million people. I don’t believe in ‘fixing’ people. I believe in engaging with C-suite executives to make their work culture inclusive of all whatever their circumstances might be.

We have co-created an amazing collaboration platform and solutions that are engaging people at different levels in organisations. We are now expanding the Community’s reach to include companies in retail. Hearing the phenomenal feedback, we receive is incredibly rewarding and energising.

Despite lockdown do you have any plans for the Easter holidays?

We will still be in lockdown by then. Let’s hope for the first shot of the vaccine and some nice weather so that we can enjoy walks along the beach. I plan to do some reading (I have bought 3-4 books recently including Bills Gates’ new book ‘How to avoid a Climate Disaster’, which I hope to read with my eldest son). The holidays are all going to be about balance in life for me. Hopefully my two teenage boys will also be interested in spending some time with their mum!

Any words of wisdom?

I started the new year with a positive word starting with the same letter as my first name which is going to stay with me for the rest of 2021. Togetherness – I think we all need to be with people, family and friends and there is so much that we can achieve if we work together. Working together and collaboratively is at the heart of what we do at WiHTL and fits in perfectly with one of my favourite proverbs:

If you want to go fast, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together. (African proverb)