Athalie Williams speaks at Financial Times Future of Work Conference

Financial Times Future of Work Conference

Panel: Lessons from Asia-Pacific on Work after Lockdown

ISABEL BERWICK, EDITOR, WORK & CAREERS, FINANCIAL TIMES:  Welcome to this panel on what we can learn from workplaces in Asia‑Pacific during the pandemic.  I am Isabel Berwick, the FT Work and Careers Editor and host of our ‘Working It’ podcast.  I am delighted to be joined today by an expert panel who are all based in the region.  The last two years have been extraordinary for all of us, but there are many aspects of working life and leadership in Asia‑Pacific that have been quite specific to that region.  It will be great to hear from these experts on how life has been for them and the lessons we can all take from that.

My first expert is Eliana Carmel, Chief People Officer at Agoda.  We have Mark Stout, Corporate Vice President of Global Human Resources at Nissan Motor Corporation and Yuka Ujita, who is the Senior Specialist in Occupational Health and Safety at the International Labour Organization.  She has joined us at very short notice, so thank you so much for joining us.  We also have Athalie Williams, Chief People Officer at BHP.  Welcome to you all.  We are going to leave some time for questions at the end, so please put them in the box on the right‑hand side of your screen and we will get to as many of them as we can.  I want this to be as interactive as possible with you, the audience.  Please do share your thoughts and tweets on social media.  We are using the hashtag ‘#FTFutureOfWork’.

I am going to come to all the panel with a very general question to start off with.  People in other regions in the world are really keen to learn from the Asia‑Pacific experience during the pandemic.  What is the standout thing that your organisation learned during this time that you would like to pass on to people watching, wherever they may be?  I would like to put that to Athalie first.

ATHALIE WILLIAMS, CHIEF PEOPLE OFFICER, BHP:  Thanks, Isabel.  It is a pleasure to join you today.  What stood out most for BHP was really how our workforce responded to the challenges of the pandemic.  It was challenging – it still is – but our people really stepped up to keep our business going.  They were solving problems faster and more independently of management.  Their teams found innovative ways to make things work.  We saw people simplify and focus on things that really mattered.  Most importantly, we really saw our culture of care come through in full as people worked together globally to support the business and to support each other. 

Of course, all of this came during really unique and challenging circumstances.  While we do not want to go back through what we have been through over the last couple of years, we do not want to lose the good behaviours and the learnings we have got from that time.  As the world gets used to living with COVID, we need to figure out how we can take the good and embed it in a more sustainable way.  That is one of the things we are looking at: how do we embed these behaviours for good rather than going back to the ways that we used to work and some of the complexities that used to get in the way?

What we are seeing is that, more broadly, organisations are now at a point of choice.  One thing we have learned loud and clear during the pandemic is that flexibility and hybrid working is not a perk; it is a source of competitive advantage for organisations.  We have busted the myth that, when people are working flexibly, they are not really working.  Companies have a choice in this post‑COVID world.  They can choose to leverage hybrid and flexible working or they can go back to old ways of working and lose out on the benefits and potentially, in the process, lose some of their very best people.  More than ever, it is an employees’ market.  Our employees will vote with their feet, and they are telling us that they want to work for employers that care, that provide meaningful work and that really understand and deeply embed the potential of flexible working. 

ISABEL BERWICK:  Thank you.  That point about how people working at home are indeed working has been huge during the pandemic.  There has been a huge shift in mindset.  I would like to come to Mark now.  What would you like to pass on to the people watching?  What has been the standout thing that Nissan has learned?

MARK STOUT, CORPORATE VICE PRESIDENT, GLOBAL HUMAN RESOURCES, NISSAN:  Thank you, Isabel.  I think the previous comments were spot‑on, frankly.  Those were very good.  A couple of things stand out to us at Nissan.  First of all, there is this reality of resilience.  The challenges of the pandemic and, for us in our business, the supply chain and chip shortages have created a resilience in the organisation.  How do you sustain?  How do you keep a focus on, one, our people – that is the first priority, of course – and, two, the business challenges?  That has been key for us. 

I have also noticed much more engagement from our leaders.  They want to talk to our people and engage.  Whether it is roundtables or dialogue sessions, they are really spending time to our people and listening to our people.  They are not just talking about employees, if you will, or what is happening to them as employees but what is happening to employees as people.  That is as a whole person, in terms of your wellbeing or your family.  Those things are key.  We spent doing that this year as well. 

For us, it has also been technology, technology and technology.  That has been critical for our employees.  We ran into some challenges around having all the tools to make us capable, during this crazy time, of reaching out and touching our people.  That is a very important focus: to make sure you have that technology and capability and that you work through the problem issues.  Those are some of the key points, but Athalie made some very good comments.  I would just add to them with this. 

ISABEL BERWICK:  Thank you, Mark.  Yuka, you have perhaps more of an overview, working for the ILO.  What can you tell us about the standout things that organisations perhaps generally have learned?

YUKA UJITA, SENIOR SPECIALIST, OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH, ILO REGIONAL OFFICE FOR ASIA AND THE PACIFIC:  Thank you very much, Isabel.  Yes, according to the ILO’s research and reports, the economies of the Asia‑Pacific region were hit hard with the pandemic, with negative economic growth of 1.5% in 2020, making it the most severe contraction for nearly half a century.

Having said that, I would like to emphasise that the negative impact was not only on the economy and the labour market as a mass; individual workers have been suffering from the virus in the pandemic.  Indeed, the COVID‑19 pandemic is a global challenge for public health, but it is also an occupational safety and health emergency.  Some workplaces have become sources of outbreaks of the virus.  We observed a number of workplace clusters in the region.  Certain work settings, including small‑sized enterprises and those in the informal economy, are at a much higher risk.  Certain groups of workers, including migrant workers, are also at a higher risk. 

In addition to infection to the virus, the pandemic caused other emerging health and safety issues at work, including ergonomics problems, mental health and violence and harassment.  The pandemic really affirmed the need to develop resilient safety and health systems at the national level as well as at the enterprise level, including a [response and preparedness?] plan for future crises.  In June 2021, the ILO’s Global Call to Action for a Human‑centred Recovery was adopted at the International Labour Conference.  Of course, health and safety is one of the priority elements.  Thank you. 

ISABEL BERWICK:  Thank you.  I think it is really important to remember the actual physical effects of the illness.  Let us not forget that.  Sometimes we overlook that when we are talking about work, hybrid work and all of that stuff.  I will come to you last, Eliana.  I know you have some really great insights and things you have learned during the pandemic as an organisation. 

ELIANA CARMEL, CHIEF PEOPLE OFFICER, AGODA:  Yes.  Hi, everyone.  Thanks, Isabel.  It is really building on what Mark, Yuka and Athalie have mentioned.  It is not only the resilience part; it is also the need to move fast when you have things you need to take care of.  If I look at the role of our people function and our workplace experience teams who are managing our offices, their skillset and their role has moved away from taking care of the offices, taking care of real‑estate procurement and snacks in the office to, ‘How do we get vaccines to our employees?  How do we manage the employee assistance programmes and psychological support that we have for mental wellbeing?’  It is a totally different skillset for our employees who were doing workplace support.  If I look at a personal story, it is our office managers who are sending out quarantine kits to our new joiners and making sure that people who are going through quarantine are being taken care of.  It is a totally different aspect to the work. 

Another aspect that we have learned is the role of the manager.  We can sit in our people functions or leadership teams and make all these decisions, but the people on the ground afterwards, day in and day out, who are talking to employees are managers who did not sign up for this.  They did not think they were going to be taking care of every personal life aspect of every employee: e.g. whether the person has a work‑from‑home set‑up or whether their kid is doing online learning and needs support.  What is the role of that manager?  What tools can we give managers?  

There are definitely things that we have decided we have to manage on a global perspective and there are areas where we want to give the manager the tools, the enablement and those measurements to be able to understand what is important now.  That is a big part of the resilience: understanding what we need to provide now.  For example, this could be changing some of our sick leave policies, adding time for people to be able to take care of what they need to at home, adding funds for people to set up their work‑from‑home set‑ups or, on the other hand, giving our managers tools to use to engage with their team.  We can say, ‘Here is a budget to do virtual teambuilding.  Here is a programme that allows employees to travel back home.  They do not need to leave; it is okay.  They can go home for six or seven weeks, visit their family, come back and still stay engaged’.  That was a really big aspect of it: changing the skillset of both our people and upskilling our current managers. 

ISABEL BERWICK:  Thank you.  We are already getting lots of questions in.  do pop them in on the right-hand side of your screen if you want to do that.  I wanted to move on and talk perhaps specifically about relationships with staff.  Mark, I wanted to bring you in first.  You have a huge workforce.  How has your relationship with staff changed?  How has it changed with clients and other stakeholders?  What would you say are the standout things there?

MARK STOUT:  Yeah, that is a great question, Isabel.  Thank you.  I think, first of all, for us, a large percentage of our workforce is our direct workforce, our plant workers.  In this pandemic, that was a big challenge for us not only within the pandemic but also the supply chain and chip shortages at the same time.  It was a perfect storm, if you will, unfortunately.  For us, it created a real flexibility focus.  Number one, many of our indirect workers, our staff workers and office workers, were working from home.  They were not required to come to the office.  In the plants, however, we had to run.  We had to create cross‑functional safety committees and safety and wellbeing committees.  These were committees that really spent time in a cross‑functional way understanding what the requirements were, what was needed in each locality, city and business and what was needed in terms of the employees in the plants. 

We managed working from home a little bit separately, but for the plant workers that was key.  We had to deal with supply chain shortages, so we were having plant shutdowns.  We had to stop some of our plants.  What do you do about paying them?  What is your plan around compensation and wellbeing for the employees?  We made a lot of provisions to continue pay and make sure we support our employees during this time.  That was a huge effort.  For the leadership teams, it changed in terms of how they related and talked to their people, how they communicated to their people and how they engaged their people.  ‘What are we doing to make sure we understand some of the unique circumstances?’  We expected people to come to work at the plant, but at the same time they had family members who had COVID.  How do you deal with that?  This created a reality of good process, good communications and good cross‑functional work.  That enhanced the relationships within. 

The other thing that we realised through this process was about enhancing and strengthening our relationship with our suppliers and our vendors.  Especially in our business, that is huge.  A lot of work was done with our purchasing and procurement organisation, working very closely with our suppliers.  What was required for them?  What needs did they have?  This created a much stronger network for us, with our suppliers.  That changed.  Again, there were a lot of cross‑functional teams working with suppliers.  This created a holistic view of our business in terms of the upstream and downstream of our organisation.

Another thing that I will mention that we really talk to our managers and our leaders a lot about is burnout and fatigue.  This again goes back to the employee wellbeing focus.  We had big concerns about this.  We did a lot of training; we provided a lot of information and understanding.  The safety and wellbeing committees were outstanding on this.  They were really creating an environment where they could ask questions, get information to our managers and do training and leadership development for them.  They understood this, and they tried to take that into consideration.  People were working from home.  This was the first time in their careers that they were spending a lot of time, especially in the APAC region and in Japan.  Our global headquarters is in Japan.  In Japan, it was very unusual to be working from home.  That was really out of the norm for our operations in Japan.  We did a lot of training and had a large focus on flexibility to support our employees here.  This has been key. 

My last comment is really around what we are doing in our organisation around psychological safety.  We are really trying to create an environment which people feel is much calmer where people feel more capable to make recommendations, make changes and adjust things.  We want them to feel like they have the freedom to do that.  We want to enhance this freedom with our leaders and our managers.  We have done a lot of training, a lot of dialogue and a lot of discussion with our people during this time. 

ISABEL BERWICK:  Mark, thank you so much.  Yuka, would you like to comment on this?  I know you will have a good view on how relationships with staff and different types of staff and stakeholders have changed during the pandemic. 

YUKA UJITA:  Yes.  Let me talk about our relationship with our constituents.  The ILO is the only tripartite UN agency.  Since 1919, the ILO brings together the governments, employers and workers of 187 member states to set international labour standards and develop policy programmes for promoting decent work for all.  This relationship has not changed; rather, it has strengthened during the pandemic.  I must say that the needs and demands from our tripartite constituents for technical assistance during and beyond the pandemic has remarkably increased, in particular ensuring workers’ production and sustainable and resilient business, including the safe reopening of businesses.

I was also very happy to hear Mark talk about the importance of staff wellbeing, including mental health and psychosocial matters.  That kind of request and demand is increasing now. 

ISABEL BERWICK:  Thank you.  We do not have too much time.  I just wanted to bring in Eliana here.  Perhaps you wanted to talk about staff.  I also wanted to move on to talk about leadership in the pandemic.  How has that changed?  Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about the specific challenges you have faced in the region around leadership.  I know you have staff in different areas. 

ELIANA CARMEL:  Sure, I will try to answer both of those in one shot.  If we talk about our staff and leadership, it is really about two‑way communication.  We are a tech company; we are in the travel space.  We really believe in measuring everything we do, measuring data and putting in KPIs and targets for everything.  When we think about the pandemic or any crisis, it is really about that two‑way communication.  First, it is communication from the leadership.  We have increased our comms.  We used to do quarterly town halls that were organised two months in advance, where we would plan what our messages were.  We moved into having town halls every two weeks, just leading from our leaders.  Through the pandemic, people were sitting at home and hearing from us every two weeks.  Now, we do it around once a month, and we bring a lot of our new tech and new innovations to our company.

Two‑way communication is also hearing from our staff.  We have increased the channels for people to raise questions.  We have done more and more surveys.  We did do an employee engagement survey once a year; now we do them a few times a year.  We do pulse checks as well.  Together with specific working‑from‑home surveys and specific surveys about what people need to be able to support them at home better, those two‑way communications have been really meaningful for us to be able to keep the resilience that we spoke about before and to keep moving fast.  As an example, we do not always understand the calendars that people are going through, such as not seeing family.  We have more than 5,000 employees globally, but more than half of them are expats in their current location.  When we were in the middle of the pandemic, we noticed that people had not seen their immediate family for over a year.  Introducing new projects and new programmes that enabled people to travel, as I spoke about before, was an example of that two‑way communication. 

That is the key part of it.  Today, we always want people to know who they can reach out to and how they can get information.  We have created what we call our live FAQs.  We keep updating those with information that keeps changing.  That is one of the things that we saw in the region, too.  We were first in, and we are still last out of the pandemic restrictions across the region in Asia.  We brought that information to employees.  It is important to bring objective and clear information on restrictions, what it means to come to the office, whether you need to be vaccinated and whether you need to be tested.  Keeping that two‑way communication has been key both for our leadership side and for our staff as well. 

ISABEL BERWICK:  I really like that piece about two‑way communication that you just talked about.  Athalie, I would like to bring you in here.  Would you like to talk about how your relationship with staff has changed and about any leadership changes during the pandemic? 

ATHALIE WILLIAMS:  Yes, one of the key lessons from a leadership perspective for us was the need to deliberately build the capability of leaders, particularly in how to lead in a much more dispersed and hybrid organisation.  Some of it is in the tools you give them.  You equip them with good technology, good processes and good functionality, but the core of it is really around how they show up, how they lead and how they behave. 

Leading a hybrid team does not always come naturally.  Some people gravitate to it very easily, while other leaders really struggle.  When you cannot rely on seeing people every day face‑to‑face, you need to work much harder; leaders need to be more deliberate about the conversations, the routines and the connections they put in place.  We invested very deliberately in that effort, and we were very conscious that for new employees and younger employees in particular this was really even more critical.  We have some people who joined in some of our Asian locations who for two years have not met their teams face‑to‑face, in the flesh, so to speak.  It has become really critical.

When you do not have physical proximity, how do you work as a team with your team?  How do you learn from people who are more senior than you?  Again, it is about taking more deliberate effort on the part of those leaders.  We have been working with those leaders to help them understand what good looks like and what their teams are going to need from them to be successful. 

ISABEL BERWICK:  Thank you.  I wanted to talk a bit about the specific workplace culture challenges that you may have in Asia‑Pacific that we often talk about here in Europe and the States as well.  I wanted to bring you in first, Yuka.  What has changed during the pandemic in terms of workplace culture?  I am thinking particularly of perhaps the presenteeism culture that was there before the pandemic.  Have you seen that change in terms of your members?

YUKA UJITA:  Thank you, Isabel.  Let me talk about the character[?] of long working hours in the Asia‑Pacific region.  According to a joint estimate from the ILO and WHO, globally long working hours, at least 55 hours per week, led to 745,000 deaths from ischemic heart disease and stroke in 2016, only one year.  That is a 29% since 2000.  It is increasing.  When we see the figures by region, the highest number of deaths due to long working hours was reported for the South East Asia region, followed by the Western Pacific region.  In total, more than 500,000 people died from long working hours.

Meanwhile, the ILO estimated that the number of working hours in the Asia‑Pacific region declined in 2020 by 8.2% compared to before the pandemic.  In 2021, 5% of all working hours were lost.  Nonetheless, that decline is an average.  For a significant segment of the working population, such as health and care workers or public service workers, the pandemic has led to a sudden increase in their workload and consequently increased hours of work.  In addition, research on [inaudible] has repeatedly shown that people working from home tend to work longer working hours than working in their original workplace, in part because commuting time is replaced by work activities, changes in work routine or the blurring of the boundary between paid work and personal life.  Also, people teleworking tend to work more during the evening and the weekend.  The discrepancy here is increasing.  This means the culture of long working hours persists for a certain group of workers; rather, it has increased.  This should be addressed by the government in consultation with health and social partners. 

ISABEL BERWICK:  Yes, the longer working hours that we are finding in home working is a very interesting and troubling point.  Mark, I would like to bring you in here in terms of corporate culture.  What changes have you seen?

MARK STOUT:  Yuka made a very good point.  For us, especially in Japan, these long working hours have been our biggest challenge.  The flexibility within that has been something that has been a real game‑changer for us.  We have a significant workforce in Japan.  We have our headquarters; we have our R&D headquarters here in Japan; we have many plants here.  It was a big opportunity.  A lot of this is around change management, understanding and communicating with our leaders to understand what they have to do in this environment to support their employees.  To Yuka’s point, because commute time, especially in Japan, is such a significant issue, it is not necessarily the case that you have to work during that time.  You have families; you have opportunities here. 

We tried to enhance an understanding of the flexibility needed.  For us in this region, it is core to get the leaders and mid‑level managers to understand the flexibility needed.  We had to train them, educate them and help them understand this.  This has really been a big shift for us in this region.  ASEAN, based out of Thailand, are much more flexible.  They had a little bit of a lesser challenge.  It was still a challenge, but not as it was in Japan. 

The only other comment I will make is about time zone challenges.  We have operations all over the world, as many of you do.  I am based out of the US; it is four o'clock in the morning, but I am in the office.  These types of things really need to be limited.  We have worked on this.  This has been an emphasise this year.  We have tried to create more flexibility and more empowerment.  You do not have to be at every meeting; you do not have to come to every session.  We have tried to give more local empowerment and less of the normal attitude around, ‘Everyone has to be in the meeting and participate’.  We have tried to streamline this.  To get back to Yuka’s point, those long work hours and that burnout and fatigue can be a real issue.  We have tried to minimise that.  We are not there yet.  It is still a journey for us, but we are on that journey. 

ISABEL BERWICK:  Mark, is it four o'clock in the morning where you are now?

MARK STOUT:  It is now 5.00 am.  Thank you. 

ISABEL BERWICK:  I am so sorry.  This is not an example of good practice.  Thank you for joining us.  I wanted to talk a little bit to Athalie and Eliana about this, but I also wanted to move on to talk a little bit about best practice for hybrid working, where we are now and moving that corporate culture on to a snapshot to how flexible and hybrid working are helping.  Athalie, would you like to move the conversation on a little bit?

ATHALIE WILLIAMS:  Yeah, I am happy to, Isabel.  At BHP, we were embedding flexible working well before the pandemic came along, because it was really key to achieving our gender‑balance aspirations.  That meant that, when COVID hit, we were ready.  Our teams were comfortable with remote working; they were largely equipped to do it.  We were even able to take it further.  After the past couple of years, we found new ways to perform some of our remote operational roles using technology.

Flexible work continues to be an accelerator and an enabler for us in terms of operational continuity.  COVID has really given us the opportunity to accelerate the mindset shift we have seen people making regarding flexible work and embed it even more deeply and more deliberately.  We have learned more in the last two years than we would have done in a decade without COVID. 

What we are seeing now in the offices in the regions where we have been able to return to largely normal‑ish conditions is about 50% attendance on a weekly basis.  What that is telling us is that our people really want to maintain a mix of remote work and time in the office, and we are very supportive of that.  Our approach is to maintain choice and autonomy for our people.  We see tremendous power when teams solve for themselves what the right balance of flexible and hybrid is for their work.  We have a mantra: we say, ‘Work when and where you get great outcomes’.  Those great outcomes are great outcomes for the company, great outcomes for teams and great outcomes for individuals.

When we allow teams to solve for themselves, we retain the adaptability and some of the resilience we spoke about earlier.  We see that autonomy piece as an important part of the employee value proposition that we offer to our employees.  While our people were equipped to transition to remote work, it is important to distinguish between flexible work and forced working from home, but they are not the same things.  Throughout the pandemic, we have seen a lot of forced working from home.  We also know that flexible work works when people have a choice about how they work.  When coming into the office is not an option, we lose that collaboration; we lose some of the innovation.

Now we are back up, so many people have told me how much this they love coming back together, seeing people, connecting and having those informal discussions that happen because you pass someone.  What we have seen in our business is that a mix of remote and on‑site work is going to work best for us.  We are not dictating what that looks like for people, and we really do want our teams to figure that out.  We have done a lot of training and support and provided a lot of tools to our leaders to help them build the capability to manage this transition and embed it into new ways of working. 

As a resource company full of engineers, data matters.  We are tracking that, and we are also looking at how this impacts performance and productivity.  I saw just last week some solid data coming out to prove the case for hybrid working.  Telstra in Australia published a report that found that the shift to hybrid working has the potential to boost Australia's economy by $18.3 billion and create around 42,000 additional full‑time jobs over the next decade.  As I said earlier, it is not a perk; it is a competitive advantage.  It is just good for business.

ISABEL BERWICK:  Thank you.  Before we go to questions – we have a lot, but do keep sending them in – I wanted to round things off with you, Eliana.  I think you are in Bangkok, are you not?  We talked a little bit about that.  Perhaps you could talk a little bit about where you are with flexible and hybrid working and in terms of the how culture has changed.

ELIANA CARMEL:  I am currently in Israel, but, yes, my team is in Bangkok, and usually I am in Bangkok.  Yes, I also started my morning at around 4.30 am today, like Mark.  I am enjoying the time zones.  I totally agree: we are working on burnout and managing that together with our teams, because everybody still wants to stay connected and have the feel of being in‑office.  We still really do believe in the advantages of being in the office together.  Our guidelines today are that we are all still working from home until at least the end of Q2, because of COVID restrictions.  What we have learned throughout the pandemic when we did reopen our offices is that a gradual opening is also something really important.  You have to let people ease back into the schedule, understand what their schedules are at home with family needs and understand what their schedule is when they come back into the office.  That easing‑in is part of it.

When we are looking at the long‑term approach and at when we reopen or not reopen, how we reopen, what is hybrid and what is flexible, for us something that has been really helpful is data and benchmarking.  This is really about learning what our competitors are doing.  In the end, we are a business.  We are trying to hire the best talent and keep the best talent.  We need to look at what our competitors are doing as far as the employees they are hiring, where they are coming from and what they are looking for.  We try to collect as much information as we can through the hiring process in terms of what people are looking for, why they are declining offers, why they are accepting the offer and what our EVP is.  That is the employee value proposition that we are offering.  On the other end of it, in terms of the people who are leaving us, where are they going and why?  Are the flexible working arrangements a reason?  Is the hybrid work a reason?  That is aside from everything else that is going on in terms of compensation, location and everything else around the great resignation.

When we talk about our workplace environment, where does that fit in with the data?  We are e‑commerce; we are a tech company.  We really have to move fast and we really have to align with our competitors on that.  That benchmarking has been really key for us.  It is something that we do all the time.  On a monthly basis, we check this again.  We bring our insights to our leaders.  That helps our decision‑makers understand what the best thing for us is.  It is a journey.  We are still there.  It is not something that has a start and an end.  Understanding that this is information that is really helpful for us in our communication cycle is something really key for us.

ISABEL BERWICK:  That is a really great point.  We are at a certain point at the moment on this journey and it is continuing.  It will go on all year.  I am really excited to see how it plays out.  I am going to go to some questions.  We have loads.  I am going to put this to Mark first.  Have you found any challenges in getting your employees to return to the workplace after proving they can work from home effectively?  How have you achieved this?

MARK STOUT:  That is a good question.  Not really, no.  I think this hybrid approach has been well accepted.  As Athalie was saying, we were on this journey as well around working from home and flexible working.  We were on this journey in many of our regions, so this has been a real accelerator for us.  A large percentage of our employee base [is a millennial workforce?].  This has been a very huge positive.  COVID has been very terrible, but what this has facilitated is something that has been important for us.  This is an environment where people feel comfortable that they can work from home.  They like it.  Again, I talk about the technology.  The technology always has to be a priority:  we have to make sure that all those connections and that capability is strong and in a good place for our employees to do this.

Again, for our direct labour and our direct workers, I think there was a lot of communication on this to help them understand.  They understand that this is a manufacturing environment.  You have to produce vehicles at the end of the day.  We did a lot of work on trying to talk to them about the importance of what they do and the flexibility that we did for some of the plant shutdowns that we had.  Employees really saw us helping and really trying to meet their needs when there was no work to be done, yet they were getting their paycheque every week or every month.  That was key.  I think this has been an important step for us.

ISABEL BERWICK:  Thank you.  I am going to put this one to Athalie.  How do companies deal with work disruption caused by the type of very strict lockdowns like those that have happened in Australia and that we are still seeing in China and potentially Hong Kong?

ATHALIE WILLIAMS:  I do not think there is a ‘silver bullet’ answer for that question.  We have certainly had our fair share of significant border restrictions and very stringent lockdowns.  I think at the core of it the qualities of our people have been what has got us through.  Trust has been at the core of being able not just to work through those sorts of restrictions but really to help the business survive and thrive during those restrictions.

Part of this comes back to the relationship we have with our people.  One of the things we did very early on was appreciate that this was an unpredictable and completely unusual time.  People were having to home‑school children and take care of parents and other family members.  We had family members dealing with illness and sickness.  Part of our workforce works remotely, so we had a fly‑in‑fly‑out workforce that moved on 24 hours' notice inter‑state and in some cases internationally before the borders locked down so that we could keep our business going.  At the core of that was trust.  We appreciated that people were going to work in the ways that they could and that they would do what they could.  We learned to focus on the things that really mattered most.  There was a lot we could park on the sidelines that really did not matter.  I saw people jumping in, helping where they could and handing off work where they had other demands.

We learned, I think, a lot about people as human beings.  The big callout[?] that got me and got many of my colleagues through very stringent lockdowns was this sense of humanity.  We might work for a company, but we had thousands of colleagues and peers coming together with a shared vision of what is possible and wanting to help one another out.  I think it has made companies more human, and that has to be a good thing.

ISABEL BERWICK:  I think that is a really great place to end, actually.  You are bringing it back to the humanity.  I think that is what has come out of this panel today: we need to treat everyone as an individual and change the way we talk to our teams.  I really liked the point about improving two‑way communication.  There has been lots in this panel for people to take away.

I would like to thank you all very much for getting up at extraordinary hours of the morning, which is beyond the call of duty.  Thank you.  Thank you to everyone watching.  This session will be available on our website for 30 days, so do share it with your teams and with your managers to give them some ideas.  Please stay tuned, because next up we have a panel discussion hosted by my FT colleague George Hammond looking at how hybrid working has changed our cities.  Thank you very much and goodbye.