GD UK – response to the pandemic and ongoing benefits

26th January 2021

The approach taken by many organisations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of flexible working, communication and having empathetic leaders with a strong eye for inclusivity.

So, we approached Rachel Phillips HR Director, and Lynne Austin, Director of International Facilities and UK Operations from one of our FairPlay Employers clients, General Dynamics UK, to get their perspective on Covid-19 and how they responded to those particular challenges.

How did your business respond to the crisis?

We anticipated the requirement for a large number of our employees to be able to work effectively from home. Ahead of this, we carried out a ‘test’ working from home day to assess how this would impact our IT network – enabling us to make the necessary adjustments.

A week ahead of the UK’s official lockdown, approximately 85 per cent of our employees were working from home. This allowed us to implement health and safety measures at each of our sites to make them safe for the remaining colleagues who were unable to carry out their roles from home. We understood how difficult it was for working parents in particular, so early on we clearly communicated that employees could work their contracted hours over any time period 24/7 that suited them.

We made a change to our normal practice for taking annual leave to allow for one hour blocks to be taken, as opposed to a minimum of half day. We were flexible in allowing a combination of annual leave and/or unpaid leave for any shortfall, through discussion with managers, based on individual circumstances. Our HR team made themselves available virtually in the same way they would have done had we been on site, with regular check-ins and catch ups continuing as normal.

What worked well and what didn’t?

Our IT enabled all employees to work from home quickly and be fully productive and our colleagues showed a strong commitment to make adjustments quickly. We were able to ensure improved visibility of senior leadership through online videos and virtual team feedback sessions and supported regular and open communication via our online app, which helped us get information out quickly.

Externally, we have kept productivity and delivery to customers on-track and engagement and interaction with customers has continued.

Areas that were more challenging, related to some colleagues not having a suitable workspace at home and meeting additional equipment needs. In addition, some colleagues struggled with the adjustment, for many reasons, and we recognised the challenge from a wellbeing perspective early on. Our leaders were encouraged to act with empathy and flexibility to these situations.

Did you take any steps specifically focused on supporting women or on equality?

We encouraged all our employees to work flexibly based on their needs – over a 24/7 period to allow for any caring or home schooling responsibilities. We encouraged men as well as women to take advantage of this, to try and challenge the perception that this activity should fall to mums. Some of our senior male leaders acted as role models by taking time out during the working week to home school and carry out childcare responsibilities.

We continue to take a flexible approach to managing annual leave. We provided a series of webinars focused on wellbeing and mental health, facilitated by a practitioner in this area. We also carried out an in-depth COVID-19 survey with all our employees to find out their views on how we had dealt with the pandemic and what concerns and issues they were having. The result of this allowed us to target further activity, which included virtual training for leaders on how to manage remote teams, looking after wellbeing, and leading teams through uncertain times. We’ve also developed manager guides for virtual interviewing and on-boarding new colleagues remotely, which has been a challenge for managers during this period.

What lessons has the crisis response provided?

It has reiterated the importance of visible and empathetic leadership, with a focus on employees and their families at the core of what we do. Many managers have had to make a conscious effort to engage and check-in with their teams, as they are no longer having day-to-day interactions in-person.

It has also demonstrated what is possible for remote and flexible working – removing the assumption that all employees are required to be co-located in order to be productive. A move away from presenteeism and inputs, to an approach focused on the delivery of quality output. The importance and benefit of regular and timely communication relating to COVID-19 and any plans around our future workspace plans have become very apparent, with employees eager to stay informed.

What does the future hold?

We have initiated a project called ‘Reimagine the Workplace’. We continue to engage our employees on their preferences for future working models via regular pulse surveys. We are reviewing our future approach to the workplace to understand how a hybrid model of working from home and the office could be adopted by the business.

The decision to review our workspace of the future has been driven by successful home working throughout the pandemic and the feedback that we have received from our colleagues. Any changes we decide to implement, will enable us to allow employees to work flexibly and maintain a better work-life balance. We also anticipate that this will allow us to be competitive with respect to attraction and retention, whilst maintaining high levels of productivity and reducing our overhead costs in the future.

Not often do you come across organisations who are very pro-active, utilising any situation to improve the working environment and culture for their staff. General Dynamics UK do this, working with Rachel and Lynne has been exciting. Taking a bad situation, like the pandemic, and right from the start setting staff up to succeed while continuously monitoring progress has been quite pioneering. Their “Reimagine the Workplace” initiative aims to capture the positive and negatives, shaping a hybrid working environment for staff to return to. It has been a pleasure to work with and support them throughout this process.

Stephanie Griffiths
Commercial Director, FairPlay Employer