2020 taught us a lot about our strengths and our ability to adapt and show resilience beyond anything we could have imagined. Our people showed a determination to deliver for customers regardless of the challenges they faced. And our values Dare and Deliver lived and breathed in the organisation at every level and in every corner of our business.
Even in stressful situations there were moments of levity: people learned to communicate in new ways, dress down Friday turned into dress down weeks, young children and even pets on occasions made themselves known, and there was clear evidence of the home-schooling challenges being tackled by so many parents. Despite the circumstances, we made a connection and we got things done. Eddy Debrulle, Group HR Director, reflects on the experience of the last 12 months:
At the start of the crisis there was naturally a lot of uncertainty and anxiety amongst our employees. As an employer their wellbeing was the most important thing to us. We acted quickly to provide reassurance, moving to remote working, or putting in place strict measures to keep people safe in our buildings. In doing so our employees were able to focus on delivering for our customers and distribution partners. Homeworking was not entirely new to most of our companies. But on this kind of scale this was still very new. We also invested in ways to further improve our digital skills allowing us to quickly implement new virtual tools of collaboration. And our internal social media platform helped us to maintain a strong connection.
The pandemic showed just how much can be done from home. But it also highlighted how much we missed our colleagues, that person to person contact that helps create team spirit. In our long-term future of work scenarios our teams will come together in the office from time to time to connect with each other in person and whenever it adds value to their work. To accommodate this, we are building a new dedicated workspace where people can meet to create connections and synergies. We believe that the office is where company culture is maintained, and ultimately culture is the backbone of any company.
We had the advantage of being present in Asia, so we were able to take some of the learnings from markets where the pandemic hit sooner than in Europe. There was strong collaboration between entities and between departments like IT, HR, and Facilities, working alongside the business. This collaboration extended to the sharing of information and even went as far as the sourcing of physical goods like masks and gels. The benefit of a strong network was clear.
The visibility of our leadership was also key. Managers committed themselves to connecting with employees and teams so that they could listen directly to the concerns of employees. This happened at every level of management, from the CEO and Management Committee down. We also kept a finger firmly on the pulse with people who were alone at home or people with young children who felt isolated. We had already been developing the adaptability skills of our management through our leadership development programmes, designed to equip us for a fast-changing world. The crisis proved just how important this is and we were able to put those skills into practice.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis accelerated our approach to the future of work, and we can now leverage on the benefits for the long term from virtual collaboration to less commuting which has in many cases improved the wellbeing of many people. To help us to focus on the impact on our company culture and future collaboration we have established a steering group made up of representatives from the business and HR to see how we can use the positive take-outs to future proof Ageas as an employer. At its core we listen to our people at every opportunity – developing solutions not only for them but also with them.
The pandemic confirmed that unity and collaboration are key, and we are holding on to that sentiment when designing our future work environment. Work was already underway to consolidate six geographically dispersed office sites into two, to create greater proximity. Today, we are building the new, sustainable offices in Lisbon and Porto where we can gather our teams under the same roof to work together on projects, to hold meetings where a live presence is beneficial and to meet one another for an informal coffee. We involve our people in every aspect of this project to ensure the shift from what we have known in the past is a success.
Did you know that...
Ageas reviewed its travel policy and recommandations around remote working and car leasing, in order to have a positive impact on its CO2 emissions. Ageas aims to:
When COVID-19 hit, Ageas wasted no time in adapting the way it worked, the way it communicated, and the way it supported its customers, partners and society, to ensure it was in the right place at the right time to deliver whatever was needed.
While we cannot ignore that the pandemic brought heartache in so many forms, it also ignited an extraordinary level of innovation, as well as a sense of togetherness that united our people, partners and communities. In a year of significant adjustment, we have seen real pride in our people and their desire to help each other and our customers. We have experienced the power of partnership in working together with our brokers and suppliers. And we have felt a real passion for supporting society in its time of need. It’s this sheer resilience and determination in continuing to meet the needs of our stakeholders in such unique circumstances that sits at the core of our purpose as a supporter of lives.
2020 was the year in which we really learned the importance of communication and how interconnected and reliant we are on one another. We learned that people are capable of great things when faced with enormous challenges, and they come no bigger than COVID-19. Despite the limitations of social distancing, most colleagues found themselves emotionally closer than ever before. People showed care towards one another and this extended to the support they provided to our customers and partners.
Throughout 2020, and thanks to the resilience of our people in Belgium, we were able to offer continuity at a time of uncertainty and we were able to stay close to our stakeholders. Ahead of the government mandating people to work from home, AG had already made the switch to teleworking. It was not an alien concept for AG, but certainly on a mass scale it was new territory for all, and it was important that we got it right the first time. Overall, the move to remote working went smoothly and importantly without loss of productivity or disruption to customer service.
We look back with a lot of pride on the way our teams across every country responded to the crisis. As well, our regional staff in Hong Kong, many of whom are working away from home with natural concerns about health, distant families, and their inability to travel home, delivered what was expected of them. The levels of customer service remained high, the engagement with Ageas and our JV partners remained strong, and throughout people were able to maintain a good work-life balance.