Behind the Scenes in Vistatec
Remaining Agile During an Unprecedented Time of Adversity
Remaining Agile During an Unprecedented Time of Adversity
Siobhan Gantly, Chief Human Resources Officer
It’s hard to believe that my life with Vistatec started more than 19 years ago. At the time the organization was very different from the one that exists today. When I joined, the company was about three years old and very much in start-up mode.
Today, however, I am part of the executive management team and I am responsible for Human Resources globally. We have teams in over 25 countries worldwide compared to when I started when it was just two countries.
It has been an incredible journey, not just being able to watch and be a part of the growth of Vistatec but to be working so closely with the people who have made Vistatec into the company we see today. Whilst it may sound a little cliché, I have enjoyed watching people succeed and it is a wonderful industry to be part of. From a very HR perspective, I think people are at the core of every aspect of what we do, so I have to say I genuinely love what I do.
Working within a global organization does come with its unique challenges, particularly the fact that we are in so many different time zones. I suppose the biggest challenge I have witnessed, however, is the current COVID-19 pandemic.
From the very beginning, COVID got our attention, not least because Vistatec has a global footprint that we are very proud of, but we are also very reliant on it. So with employees, contractors, suppliers, and clients in almost every corner of the world, we knew a global pandemic posed a potentially serious risk.
It was probably back in January when the World Health Organisation (WHO) started to talk about a pandemic and there was a lot of information coming out about what was happening in China that we set up a task force specifically to help us assess the risk and put every strategy in place that we could to minimize any potential risk to the organization and its people.
We looked closely at all of the different possible scenarios that could happen. We did identify that our HQ in Dublin was where we were most vulnerable to a potential outbreak. We also knew that business and personal travel would also pose a certain risk to our business. Within a very short period of time, we put unprecedented measures in place around business and personal travel for us to help us manage that particular risk. In addition, we knew that working from home was going to be critical in terms of keeping our staff and their families safe whilst at the same time of course keeping our business protected.
As a business, we were very fortunate in so far as we already had a formidable remote IT infrastructure. We already had a lot of teams working remotely. So the transition to remote working was, I would say, fairly seamless and again that meant that our teams could remain focused on our customers and how to support them through the crisis.
We were acutely aware of the need for Vistatec to remain very proactive, considering that for many of our customers and employees it has been and continues to be an uncertain time.
At the most basic level, I would say that we have been very honest and transparent at every stage of this process with our teams. We shared our assessments of the situation from early on and the plans that we had in place for how we would handle the various scenarios or possibilities. We also acknowledged the individual concerns of our employees, who like everyone else, were, and to an extent still are, worried from a personal perspective about what has been going on in the world around them.
We showed that we were not willing to compromise on the safety of our people by making difficult decisions early. So each time the situation escalated, people were calm and in control because we had talked them through those scenarios. That was important and I feel it contributed to a more calm environment.
Our IT teams have been so proactive in terms of making sure that everyone has what they need to work from home. They put together test plans, training sessions, easy-to-understand self-help guides. They also purchased contingency equipment ensuring they had every eventuality prepared for. As I mentioned earlier, I do think that the transition to everybody working remotely was very seamless, and certainly, from a customer perspective, they have reaped the rewards.
Our recruitment and onboarding team together with the various hiring managers have had plenty of experience already with remote onboarding programs. So this made it very easy for us to continue meeting our hiring targets and to ensure that all of our teams have had the capacity needed to support our clients during such a busy time for them and to be able to support them.
Our Marketing team engaged with our customers and suppliers and provided much of the information needed to those companies who rely on us every day. They’ve also been working on practical initiatives to keep us all socially connected in our new environment. We’ve been running virtual coffee breaks every day to help people connect while working remotely. That sense of connection has been vitally important, especially for those employees who live alone and may not have had any other social outlet.
We have also run what we have imaginatively called “Stronger Together” sessions to encourage people to come together to discuss relevant topics and share each other’s experiences.
It has been fantastic to see that some of our well-established remote teams who would understand the challenges that come with working from home came to us with ideas and advice for those who were new to this world of working from home. I think I can speak on behalf of all the staff and say that this advice was invaluable.
For those employees who are also parents, they have been sharing information in terms of how to help with the challenges of homeschooling and working and I have to say I have been overwhelmed by the genuine acts of kindness I’ve seen from people to each other.
During the most difficult of days, our teams have made videos to encourage their colleagues elsewhere in the world to heed the advice and stay positive. Such selfless acts in very difficult circumstances for them. One of our partners in China offered to send us a shipment of PPE that they no longer needed, which again was such a kind act.
At times, when there was a whole lot of sadness and loss that this pandemic has brought about, the one thing that has really kind of amazed me has been seeing people come together and this has been so evident in Vistatec. We have seen epic teamwork with all the stakeholders, employees, contractors, our suppliers, our customers. It has been amazing.
As Vistatec is such a global organization, we have been witness to the different approaches individual governments and regimes took to addressing and dealing with the pandemic. We paid very close attention to those countries who were impacted earlier on and how they reacted. This was a huge advantage and we benefited from the experience and wisdom of our partners in these countries.
Vistatec very much prides itself on being an agile organization and so in virtually all cases, we didn’t wait for individual governments to act and I think it’s fair to say we were a little bit ahead of the curve in some respects. When we did act, it was unilateral. It was across all locations.
Borders have no bearing on the vulnerability to COVID-19. So a unilateral approach made the most sense to us when we were looking at this as a company operating in over 25 different countries across the globe.
Whilst it is true that Ireland is where we are exposed most and while we’re still in this battle against COVID-19, I do have to compliment the leadership this Irish government has shown today because I do think they acted in the best interest of the people at all times. The difficult decisions that other governments put off, they took them exactly when needed and we have had access to very reliable information as well. This has been a huge benefit to companies like us and it will certainly aid, I think, a quick recovery.
COVID-19 has impacted some people and organizations much harder than others and I think it’s important that companies like Vistatec, who have been mostly resilient I would say to COVID, play their part in helping the fight.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to us that our teams can focus on supporting our clients through this and we’ve been busier than ever producing quick turnaround critical COVID content for global audiences across the many different industries that we operate in and we will continue to do whatever it takes to support the organizations that we serve and to aid the global recovery.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is also something I and Vistatec feel very strongly about and that’s long before COVID-19. We must act in the best interest of our employees and our stakeholders, but also the wider communities in which we operate. At Vistatec, we’re acutely aware that we have a role to play and I think we’ve taken that responsibility very seriously I’m happy to say.
We have been making financial donations each week to various charitable organizations across the globe helping with the frontline issues. Every little action matters. They all add up and I think we all have a role to play.
To conclude I would like to add that at Vistatec we have acknowledged that each position and situation is different from the next and we have been clear with our staff that we know there’s no one size fits all in this scenario. We know some people have been (and in some cases still are) more vulnerable to this disease than others. We know some people are minding children at home and trying to home-school. We know there are frontline workers in some of our families, which brings significant worries and challenges and we know as well that we all have different coping mechanisms and it’s very likely these may be compromised during the lockdown.
We have advised all of our staff and we would like to advise anyone reading this, to go to your manager, to go to your HR team and talk about the challenges you’ve been having and a solution will be found. I think having some perspective is important for us all. This is a point in time that will eventually pass and it’s so easy to be consumed by all of the negativity. We are already seeing green shoots and hopefully, this will continue.
Finally, I would like to take the opportunity on behalf of Vistatec to sympathize with all of those who have suffered losses as a result of COVID-19. The loss of life has been exceptionally cruel and our sympathies are with so many people.