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The positives from coronavirus

I am annoying. For those who know me, it probably isn’t for the reasons you might think, well not on this occasion anyway, for this is the view of my teenage daughter.

It’s not unusual for daughters to think this of their mothers, and certainly not for mine to think it of me but I feel I am being judged a little harshly on this occasion – the reason I am annoying is because apparently I always try to find the positive in a situation. So I can only apologise in advance if what I’m about to say annoys you too – feel free to let me know if it does, my teenage daughter would love to know, she likes to be right.

So, deep breath and here goes, I can see some positives in our industry coming from the coronavirus. There, I’ve said it. I’ll go further and say also that , whilst it’s early days, we are already seeing some great changes taking place (albeit they are born from necessity) which support the need for inclusive workplaces I have been highlighting for some time now.

The unprecedented situation we find ourselves in with respect to coronavirus is affecting us all and is something we cannot escape from nor can anyone know what the coming days, weeks or months are going to look like. We are all in this together and that is creating a strong sense of community and empathy. We are all talking more freely across all departments and across all levels of seniority than we have done before because these daunting and unnerving times are hanging over every single one of us. I have seen changes in the way my own employees are interacting and the way they are pulling together in these adverse times and, when I have been brave enough to venture to the supermarket (I promise I’m not buying all the toilet roll), strangers who would normally be stony faced and quiet are interacting in a really positive way. Obviously that’s not exclusive to the shipping industry but from speaking with various managers and business owners lately, teams are really pulling together in ways they have not had to before and it is fantastic to see.

Various measures have been implemented by shipping and maritime employers from staggered working hours to workplace rotations and, for the first time in our industry’s history, we are encouraging, and even demanding, our employees work from home on a global scale.

The research we have been undertaking within our Diversity in Shipping study shows that only 6.5% of our employees have had the opportunity to work from home historically but that has changed dramatically and suddenly. Business continuity plans have necessitated the option of working from home and it is going to have to be effective, we have no choice. As more and more countries introduce tougher restrictions, the only way we can navigate these challenging times is by empowering our employees and trusting them to work at home. This will cause challenges because we are not geared up for it but with good communication and objective setting and clear reporting requirements, it is doable.

Millennials and Generation-Z are looking for more progressive workplaces which, as part of their offering, demonstrate themselves to embrace technology and to provide flexible working in a trusting working relationship that provides a better work-life balance than we presently have in shipping. Not only that, those who are seeking to make their workplaces more diverse need to encourage more women into the workplace, and to encourage parents to return after maternity or paternity leave and our working environments, and those who dictate the practices within it, are often not conducive to this.

Coronavirus has forced shipping to take a leap forward with respect to its employees that is long overdue. It will also encourage individuals who have been reluctant to consider any form of flexible working to experience it first hand and understand that it can work. There may be bumps along the way but I’m taking the positive view that once the hardship of this situation is behind us, we will reap the benefits of some of the measures we have had to take and choose to incorporate them into our ongoing working practices.

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Heidi Heseltine

Heidi Heseltine is the CEO of Halcyon Recruitment and co-founder of the Diversity Study Group. Her past career saw her work for shipowners, brokers as well as Levelseas.

Comments

  1. Any column that starts with “I am annoying” works for me…great article. For anyone feeling alone, confused and frustrated – Propeller Club Liverpool has started a daily smoko group on Twitter. 30 mins at 1000 and 1500 GMT – just a few souls sharing their tales of work, their desks and biscuits. See @propellerists to join the fun…all welcome! We can’t change the fear of what is around the corner, but we can face it together, we can look out for each other, and we can all make sure that we are still there to be annoying when the world returns to some semblance of normal…whatever that is in shipping! Stay safe people.

  2. Thanks Steven. Great initiative re the daily group get together, we are running something similar internally for our teams to help us stay connected and positive as a team whilst working from home.

  3. At http://www.SCARDANA.com we are 7 females and one male, and most of the points you make, we did not need the present virus to implement. In fact they have been in place for the past 12 – 15 years, and although we are all unrelated, this office operates in many respects with familial flexibility, not least to provide any timing coordination for school closings, day care availability, occasional visits by children and one handicapped child. Curiously, rather than detracting from overall productivity of the office, it appears to do the very opposite, and it lends a distinct quality of mutual support and work time enjoyment.

    1. Good to hear Philip, we need to share more of these positive (there I go using that word again!) stories. I completely agree with you about the increase in productivity and also motivation and enjoyment. We have always worked that way as well and supported home working. When you look at things from a ship owners perspective, many employees have been trusted to work from home out of hours to manage their ships 24/7 (I remember those days well) yet the industry has a problem letting these people do this on a more flexible basis (until now). I hope we hear more stories like yours and that when we are able to return to ‘normal’ office working, we don’t revert entirely to how things were before.

  4. As long as we have old boomers running organisations, basic concepts like WFH will still be viewed with suspicion in our industry.
    Here in Hong Kong, there are very few employers who have allowed WFH for their employees like Superintendents, who rarely, even on regular days require to be physically present in the office!
    This industry has always prided itself in being a dinosaur!

    1. Well, we all know what happened to the dinosaurs! Thankfully, there are some progressive individuals around now and we are see some fantastic initiatives and sharing of best practice processes from those involved in the Diversity Study Group so all is not lost!

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