HR leaders from BlackLine, Eaton East Asia, Diageo, and Toll Group, share what they've learnt from the unprecedented year of 2020, including continuing to engage employees, the importance of culture and purpose, and more.

As we enter 2021, to help set the tone moving forward, the team at HRO interviewed about 20 HR and business leaders to put together the key people-related learnings HR and business leaders have gained from their experiences during the unprecedented year of 2020.

In our previous article, leaders from Fujitsu, foodpanda, and more, shared tips such as encouraging and practising flexible work, investing in online wellness resources, rethinking the conventional ways, a shift away from the office mentality, and more.

This second article sees HR leaders from BlackLine, Eaton East Asia, Diageo, and Toll Group, talk about what they've learnt from the unprecedented year of 2020.


Susan Otto, Chief People Officer at BlackLine

Putting employees first above all else: A core value at BlackLine is serving and caring for our employees. We’ve strived to uphold this commitment by ensuring people continued to thrive and be engaged despite the pandemic. We introduced initiatives such as Workout Wednesdays, Thoughtful Thursdays and Closing Time (employee-led group activities) so employees can bond (virtually and safely) outside of work and take care of their mental and physical well-being. We believe people thrive better when they embrace the new normal together.

Communication is critical: Working with a fully distributed workforce can be challenging. BlackLine was committed to ensuring employees were kept informed of changing conditions and received regular updates on guidance and business happenings. We introduced a daily executive forum, weekly ‘people leaders’ call, and increased email communication. This helped ensure all employees had the information needed to stay safe and healthy, and were informed of changes to business priorities.

Cloris Gu, HR Director, Eaton East Asia

Support and training are now more crucial than ever: We took the opportunity to reformulate our training programs in 2020 to focus on fostering talents at different stages in their career. Our new initiatives include diverse future leadership acceleration programs for talents across all levels to continually engage high performers, as well as provide training in networking and upskilling. We are looking to roll out these programs virtually next year.

Empathy builds trust and cohesiveness: It’s important for our employees to feel connected, supported and empowered during this difficult time. Given that remote working will still be the norm moving forward, close collaboration between HR, management and local market leaders continues to be critical to understanding local challenges and ensuring employees are well-equipped to navigate ongoing uncertainty. We will continue to plan and deliver initiatives to engage employees and provide avenues for them to nurture their creativity and innovative spirit wherever they prefer to work.

Toygan Pulat, Human Resources Director for Asia Pacific, Diageo

The onset of COVID-19 presented immense challenges and learnings for businesses and individuals and this is no different for Diageo, where we learnt to rely on our culture of agility to adapt and emerge stronger in the ‘new normal’.

Even before the pandemic, we prioritised a flexible culture and environment to reflect new ways of working, with offices built around agile workspaces with no fixed seating and a robust suite of technology and collaboration tools to support remote working as well as encourage staff to use only laptops and mobile phones. We were fortunate as all this helped make the transition to working from home a bit easier for our people and the business.

We also learnt the importance of continuing to engage with each other at different levels to support productivity, morale and--just as importantly, the overall wellbeing of our people as we all managed the uncertainty and impact of the pandemic on daily life.

Diageo put additional resources into wellbeing-focused webinars, workshops and employee assistance programs and putting in place ways of working that will continue to remain part of our long-term strategy to support employees.

Vikram Cardozo, Chief Human Resources Officer, Toll Group

If 2020 has taught me anything it is to never underestimate how well your organisation can face into a crisis and deliver. The last 12 months have presented more challenges than most of us would have imagined.

In late 2019 our Australian business contended with some of the most ferocious bushfires in history. Destroying more than 46 million acres of bush, businesses and homes – our team worked hard through this difficult time to keep delivering for our customers & the community. In early 2020 Toll was the victim of a major cyber-attack followed by a second shortly after. Then in February, COVID hit the globe. Despite these enormous challenges, our team at Toll hasn’t faltered.

Some learnings from adapting to the changing environment. Working remotely is here to stay. In 2020 Toll enabled ~10,000 of its office workers to work from home. As digital solutions (including remote work) have increased, so have cybersecurity risks.

Culture plays a big role in ensuring we can thrive online while also remaining vigilant. Values including collaboration, accountability, integrity and trust were critical to successfully leading our dispersed teams. And in times of crises, along with culture, purpose has a proven a key driver. They have kept us on course and grounded.

The broader employee ecosystem is a concept we've become more conscious of at Toll. Leaders work hard to ensure they are considerate of the eco-system beyond the employee given work has “moved in” to their homes and taken “their space”.


Over the next two weeks, we will be sharing more of these learnings in our series of five articles, marked as 2020 recap. 

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