Responding to COVID-19 with Resilience: Advice from Business Leaders

COVID-19 has had a massive impact on all of us. For some sectors the impacts have been huge, for others, that can adapt to remote working, less so but across the board, the changes have been stark and unforeseen.

Now, over 2 months into the pandemic we’ve somewhat settled into new ways of working and living. We keep our distance and we’ve all become accustomed to virtual meetings and even virtual hiring and onboarding.

Although we have adapted, it can still be challenging, particularly if you are managing a large newly remote team or have team members struggling to cope. Resilience is always an essential skill to harness and is now more relevant than ever before.

I recently spoke to Vincent Harrison, Managing Director at Dublin Airport, Orla Graham, Chief People Officer at Davy and Patrick Atkinson, Chief Executive Chadwicks Group about how they are embracing the current climate and their advice on remaining resilient during COVID-19.

I found their insights beneficial, honest and practical and I hope you do too.

Leaders advice on remaining resilient during COVID-19.

Vincent Harrison, Managing Director, Dublin Airport

Vincent Harrison has held the role of Managing Director of Dublin Airport since 2014. Prior to this he was Director Strategy, Regulation & B2B and has also held senior financial roles within DAA.

Serving over 190 destinations, Dublin Airport is the 9th largest airport in the EU and consistently ranks in the top 5 large airports in Europe according to passenger ratings.

Vincent’s advice for remaining resilient

While everyone and every sector has been impacted by this crisis, the aviation sector has seen an almost complete cessation of activity globally in just 2 months and this is expected to continue for some time.

At Dublin Airport, we would normally see in excess of 100,000 passengers a day at this time of year – people travelling in and out of the country for holidays, for business or to visit friends and family.

These days we are seeing less than a thousand – or a reduction in activity of 99%. The eerily quiet scenes at the airport are not just affecting business performance. We have small numbers of essential staff maintaining operations on a 24/7 basis and when I meet them, they still can’t get over the change that has happened in what is normally such a vibrant place. We all need to find resilience in a situation like this.

We need to manage without having all the answers

A challenge for leaders across businesses is that people look to them to provide solutions and they often feel that they should have all the answers themselves. In these circumstances, and in fact, in all situations, it’s ok to say, ‘I don’t know’.

People are discovering that what, just weeks ago, seemed like worst-case predictions of the scale and length of the impact of this crisis now seem quite optimistic. Dealing with the here and now and not trying to second guess the uncertainties of the future is fundamental, and its actually quite liberating.

Leaders in a crisis come from all parts of the organisation

All roles in every organisation are important. In the good times, however, many roles can be taken for granted. Just as the health care staff and front-line workers, in general, have rightfully been heralded for their contributions, every organisation has people who will step forward in an emergency, show leadership, new perspectives, find opportunities or galvanise others with their positive attitude and style. It is important and greatly rewarding to empower such people.

We will find new opportunities and purpose in adversity

There is no doubt that this crisis will have far-reaching implications for the future, including how we travel. But like every similar event in the past, there will be new breakthroughs and opportunities arising.

Despite the reduction in passenger numbers, Dublin Airport’s role over 80 years as the key gateway for the country has never been more apparent – facilitating the movement of essential cargo and medical supplies, allowing for the return of Irish citizens from abroad and the repatriation of many to their home countries.

Orla Graham, Chief People Officer at Davy

Orla is a global HR leader with over 20 years’ experience gained in 4 blue-chip companies.
Recognised as a business leader with a strong drive for results balanced by a transparent, pragmatic and collaborative style, who can build trust, drive change, and lead teams with energy and vision.

Orla believes that a business will grow and develop by being able to motivate and retain the best people by providing an environment where people are challenged and engaged to deliver their best work.

Orla’s advice for remaining resilient

Focus as much as possible on the positives.

It’s very easy to get bogged down in the doom and gloom. I have started a course with Yale University on the science of wellbeing and happiness. It is a good reminder that the small things that can make a big difference. The good news is that the course is free during Covid-19.

Keep communication channels open

I have a daily meeting with my team now via teams and look forward to this daily connection. As a leader, it is important that I am positive and upbeat. I get energy from the interaction.

Once a week on a Friday we discuss how we are all coping/ feeling and that is the most important meeting of the week for everyone. It is easy to focus on the work however I strongly believe if you focus on the people the work always gets done.

Take time away from work

Work can take over and it is easy to spend too much time at work as there are few other distractions. I was struggling to get away from the laptop and the first walk of the day was often late in the evening. I now try and have a walk first thing in the morning in addition to the evening and this has helped with energy and focus.

Patrick Atkinson, Chief Executive Chadwicks Group

Patrick Atkinson has worked in the building materials business for 28 years and is the Chief Executive of the Chadwicks Group. The Irish Merchanting function of Grafton Group plc which trades from a fifty-location branch network nationwide. He joined the Group in 2015 as COO and in 2017 took on his current position.

Patrick’s advice for remaining resilient

Stay positive & plan for the future

Despite all the doom and gloom around due to the current pandemic, the sickness and death, the likely recession, the uncertainty, find a way to stay positive.

Find something to focus on, some point in the future.  That could be reopening your business, getting people safely back to work, celebrating positive outcomes or events whatever that may be.

Try and get everyone in the team to focus on that point, set out a road map and include as many people in the process mapping out that journey, identify milestones and get people involved in hitting those milestones. Help them remain part of the team by staying involved.

Strong communication. 

With so many teams now working remotely, it’s important to stay connected to people and teams.  MS Teams, blue jeans and Zoom are all now part of our everyday lives and broadly speaking they have served us very well during this crisis.

However, we are human and human interaction is an important part of our lives. Be inclusive on those sessions for people who are remote, encourage them to share their opinions and present their thoughts.  It’s easy for people to get lost on these large-format meetings.

Much of the richness of information we gather by moving around speaking to people in a casual way is lost.  Follow up meetings with good notes and documented actions. Try and find time to call those who are well connected and those whose voice is not being heard in this new format of meetings.

Develop and embrace a structure

Most of us are now working in a way that is unusual for us. Many not used to working from home would have imagined how much more time they would have working from home and work-life balance easily achieved. This is often not the case.

It’s important you develop a new structure for your new working conditions. Have a start and finish time for work. Prepare to go to work, get dressed, eat at normal regular intervals in a space other than your workstation. Exercise every day, plan downtime and find time to reflect and plan for tomorrow.

Overall, the consistent theme here is to try and look to the positives, embrace these new norms and put time and effort in maintaining and building connections and communications with your people  These are challenging times however together we can make it through.

If you have any queries regarding hiring or managing a team during the COVID-19 crisis you can download our guide or get in touch – we’d be delighted to help.