HR@Home Ep8: Jill Gates, director of culture & people experience EMEA at Ensono

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Today, we’re talking to Jill Gates, director of culture & people experience EMEA at Ensono. With over 20 years of experience in HR, Jill is also the VP for Ensono’s rapidly expanding Asian divisions. With previous roles in CenturyLink, Redstone and CA, Jill has vast experience leading both national and international teams through HR functions in order to get the best out of her people and the company at large.

You can watch the episode below, or read the full interview underneath.

What are the key issues facing HR people leaders in 2020 and how will COVID-19 affect these?

Jill: I think the key thing that’s facing us this year, more so than ever before, is the very real, present threat to life. And I think whilst, in the past, periodically there have been experiences that have brought that to the forefront, they’ve been short-term, temporary. But what we’re dealing with right now, is an ongoing situation where threat to life is the most important thing that you’re dealing with or trying to counter.

So, I think [COVID-19] will impact work in many ways. I think it’s already impacting it! I would say that for a company like Ensono where we’re in the technology business, we’re in the business of ensuring our clients can use technology to do what they need to do. Certainly that use of technology is key.

I mean quite simply, I can’t imagine how we would be dealing with the situation like the one we’re in today, if this had happened 25 years ago. So, technology is something that we all need.

We have complained about [technology] at times and it intrudes too much on your life, but it’s an absolute necessity and we wouldn’t get through what we’re getting through now without that ability to connect with colleagues, do our jobs remotely or connect with family and friends remotely. So, it’s good to be part of that technology industry.

But certainly seeing how it’s advancing, even the latest developments on how science is adapting and relying on technology to help them develop a way out of this situation is absolutely key. So I’m grateful that, if it has to happen, I’m grateful it’s happening in 2020 and not 25 years ago, for sure.

Has there been certain HR technology that your organisation has been leaning on quite heavily?

J: Ensono is a global business, and we have associates in India, Germany, Poland and the UK, as well as in various States in the US. From a UK standpoint, we were lucky enough over the last few years to have done a couple of significant office refurbishments where we’ve had people out of the office quite a lot and working from home or remotely as we’ve improved our office environments.

We’ve always encouraged some homeworking, so we’re flexible in that regard - like a lot of IT companies typically are; and it’s good for people’s wellbeing not to necessarily have to do the commute every day of the week, so we relaxed that considerably and everybody’s really working from home now. It hasn’t been such an upheaval for us as I’m sure it was for some other organisations.

Clearly certain individuals prefer to be in the office more than they do at home, and that’s dependent on their own personal circumstances. But for the most part, our associates have adapted really, really well. Even when we’re bringing on board new hires, which we’ve still done in this period, we’ve been able to ship out equipment to them, get them set up, get them onboarded and it’s been fine. We’ve been very lucky in that regard.

But I think technology helps. We rely on Microsoft teams and we communicate that way. I think we’ve changed quite a lot of our patterns and behaviours to allow for remote working. So, no more all day meetings that were probably hard to get through in the office. It’s shorter meetings, it’s daily huddles, It’s a bit more bite-size. It’s more tailored to that kind of working remote environment than it was from the office.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges businesses are going to face over the next few months as we transition back to ‘normal’?

J: Yes, that’s the question because it’s now the work I’m living and breathing every day. Closing the offices down was relatively straightforward, so people have adjusted to that and that’s the state that we currently find ourselves in today.

I think the biggest challenge will be how we return back to some office working. And I think there’s lots of hurdles we have to overcome with that. Firstly, we have to be ready to do it when our governments tell us it’s okay to do it. So, in line with the guidance and requirements that are given to us in each geography. Absolutely starting with that as number one priority and then dealing with whatever limitations we have to work with and being prepared to return. It will be on a very limited scale initially as we build confidence.

You might ask yourself, what’s the point of trying to return people to work? You’ve got to be distancing in the office. They’re not going to be in rooms, huddling around the table and doing the things they would have done before and that in itself is very true.

I think the first obstacle we’ve got to try and overcome are some of the psychological challenges that we will have; because I think there’ll be a lot of fear about returning, about potentially becoming sick, worrying about things like second waves of infection; worrying about the welfare of the people on the other end is.

I think first and foremost, we’ve got to work on the practical measures that we need to have in place, to support people through those challenges to make sure that everybody knows what’s permitted.

Everybody knows what they need to do and really overcome that fear of getting back into a workplace, and also doing it in just a highly controlled fashion. There’s no way we’re going to be inviting anybody back to offices that are vulnerable, that are reliant on public transport. So, I think it’s the careful planning of the re-integration. I think that’s going to be a lot harder than closing down offices was.