Many employers are already turning their attention towards how they intend to adapt their post-pandemic workforce policies once national lockdowns are over.
Among the companies working through the options at the moment is lastminute.com. The online travel and leisure retailer, like most others in its sector, has been hard hit by the crisis, ending fiscal 2020 with a 62% drop in year-on-year revenues to €128.9 million. It also saw EBITDA plummet by 97% from €71 million in 2019 to €2 million last year.
But while Stuart Bagnell, the organization’s Head of Culture, declined to assign a figure to the number of staff it has had to let go, he did say the firm had “not made a large amount of redundancies”. Furlough schemes introduced across Europe have been “crucial” in saving jobs here, he says, while the usual rate of hiring and replacement has also been slowed.
Just as important in staff retention terms though has been the company’s move to re-deploy employees into new roles by evaluating and assessing their core skills, with much of the active workforce, for the time being at least, continuing to operate on reduced hours, the level of which varies based on role and national regulations. Bagnell explains:
As the crisis hit, we had to pivot the business from being a travel booking engine to focusing on cancellations – it all became about that. But we realised very quickly we weren’t equipped to deal with the volume of cancellations we were facing, so it became about transferring employees into roles to help customer service staff who were struggling - and people internally wanted to support that.
Taking a Smart Working approach
As economies start to transition out of lockdown and pent-up demand for travel is unleashed, Bagnell expects lastminute.com, like many other employers, to adopt a predominantly hybrid working model, with most employees operating part of the time from the office and part of the time from home.
Other possible options include enabling them to work part of the year in one country and part of the year in another, or to take advantage of the “workcation” approach. In this instance, if staff are asked to work for, say, a week in a given location, they can then choose to extend their trip for another week by vacationing there too.
Put another way, the company’s aim is not to limit itself to purely hybrid working. Rather, the objective is to adopt a Smart Working approach in order to enable flexibility in its broadest sense, a move underpinned by mobile technology and communication and collaboration systems, such as Workplace from Facebook.
Adopting this kind of Smart Working approach includes the idea of conducting ‘Business Without Borders’, a strategy intended to help the online retailer access a broader talent pool by widening out its geographical search area beyond the usual commute distance of local offices to become national or even Europe-wide in scope. Bagnell explains:
We’re looking at this as being the future of how we recruit and, in fact, have already taken people on in locations where we don’t have an office. It’s creating a step change in how we think about the business as we’ll have to become remote and digital-first. This means being ready with the necessary tools and processes so we can provide the full employee experience for everyone, whether they’re in the office, hybrid or fully remote.
But key questions here include how to ensure everyone - whether operating from home, in a co-working space or in the office - feels included during meetings and part of the wider organizational culture. To this end, lastminute.com is compiling a handbook of policies and practices based around its smart working framework to act as a best practice guide for staff and managers.
Adopting flexibility in a wider sense
The firm is also creating a calendar of pre-scheduled, in-person meetings throughout the year to ensure they are in a position to network and make connections internally, while managing their diaries at the same time. These will include leadership and brainstorming events, as well as Holiday and summer parties.
Core hours will also be established to ensure colleagues can get together and collaborate, although lone activities can be undertaken when it suits them. Informal, but organized, ‘water cooler moments’, such as regular “Happy Breakfasts”, where employees use Workplace from Facebook to interact with people outside of their own teams, are likely to be re-assessed in light of future demand though. Bagnell says:
Smart Working provides an holistic view of how we can work better as a company, which includes embracing the technological environment we operate in. Remote working is one element of that, but really it’s about exploring what flexibility means in a wider sense. So some of the questions from the trenches have been things like, ‘Can I work in another country for six months of the year?’. These are the parameters we’re working through and it’s not an easy feat as there are lots of pieces of the puzzle. For example, there are corporate tax laws and local labor laws, which all vary by country.
While the introduction of a Smart Working framework had been an objective before the pandemic, putting one in place and testing out the 90 or so initiatives that make it up and which include revamping performance management to incorporate peer feedback, rose sharply up the priority list once the crisis struck.
But as Bagnell points out:
The acid test will be when we hit the ‘new normal’ and understand how much things have changed. So we’re currently looking at each element to see how things are likely to be, and we’ll see what the priorities are as things transition and change. We’d be crazy to try and write magnificent proposals of what the future will look like at this point, so some of it is simply about managing expectations and the rest about testing and learning. You also have to be brave enough to say what was better before because that enables you to take the best from the past and the best from the present and hopefully create an even better future.
Despite having had a difficult year, lastminute.com is attempting to adapt to the new realities ahead by introducing the concept of ‘smart working’ to make its culture as flexible as possible, and taking a pragmatic approach in doing so - which ultimately is possibly all any of us can do as we try to pick our way through these uncertain times.