Sun, 31 May 2020

Research suggests that it takes around two months for a new behaviour to become a permanent habit, and the UK-wide lockdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the way businesses across the country operate moving forward.

We sat down with our CEO, Stephen Hunt, to discuss what BNP Paribas Personal Finance UK has learnt from this crisis, and how he hopes to use this as a catalyst for positive change.

Stephen says: “Like most businesses, we had prepared for various crises prior to this, but the sheer scale of this unprecedented situation meant it was still daunting initially.

“Almost overnight, we found ourselves in a situation where we could no longer access our buildings or support our clients in person, and this forced us to think very quickly and creatively about how we were going to work around this.

“What really impressed me was that, despite the uncertainty surrounding the entire situation, everyone really pulled together as a team to focus on the task at hand. This meant we were able to come up with some brilliant solutions over the course of a few days, which in normal circumstances would’ve taken months to put into place, and communication was really key to our success in this.”

This sense of community hasn’t just been reflected in the logistics of the move to remote working, but also in in the way our colleagues have worked together to support our customers through this crisis.

Steve explains: “Throughout this whole situation one of our biggest focuses has been supporting our customers, and most of them have been impacted in one way or another by the coronavirus crisis and subsequent lockdown measures.

“This naturally put a huge strain on the business operationally, so it was great to see how the entire company got behind our ops teams and helped them to deal with that increased demand.”

As we slowly start to emerge from the worst of this crisis, many businesses will be asking themselves how we return to ‘normal’, and what that new normal will look like.

Steve says: “One of the biggest positives to come out of this otherwise awful situation is that it’s forced us to rethink our old habits and routines.

“Now that we’ve successfully navigated the worst of the crisis, we now have to think really hard about how we lock-in some of the positive changes that have come from this, allowing us to turn short-term benefits into long-term solutions.”

Perhaps one of the biggest changes Steve hopes to put in place is making flexible working a permanent part of company life.

He explains: “I’ve been pleasantly surprised at just how well everyone’s adapted to remote working, and the past few months have definitely shown that we’re able to be just as productive while working remotely.

“We’ve also noticed other gains, such as low levels of absenteeism, that have come from people having a lot more flexibility in the way that they work, and we’re really keen to capture these moving forward.

“While there was already a degree of that flexibility available for our corporate teams, extending that into areas like our call centre has been a real win from all of this, and we’ve been thinking very seriously about how we can continue to adapt our previous model to become an ever better place to work.”

Another big positive that has come from the shift to remote working has been the way in which we’ve embraced technology, and this has forced Steve to think about how we can accelerate our digitalisation.

He explains: “We were really lucky that we had the ability to use video conferencing software from day one of lockdown, but although we’ve had technology like this in our business for a while, we hadn’t ever fully embraced it until now.”

As well as helping the team to maintain connections with clients, relationships between colleagues have also been strengthened using this technology.

Steve explains: “I’ve had lots of feedback from team members who’ve said they’ve been getting to know each other much better and learning new things about their colleagues as a result of regular team social calls.

“This is another one of the positives that we’re really eager to maintain after lockdown is lifted.”

With regards to next steps, Steve says: “Now that we’ve dealt with the immediate fallout of this crisis, we as a senior management team need to ask ourselves how we’re going to use this to drive permanent change.

“As a business, we’re looking at a number of things that we want to take from this crisis, such as how we can become an even better employer, reduce our impact on the environment and support our customers and clients in a more flexible way.

“While we’re not sure exactly what this new model will look like yet, we do know that this is a great opportunity for us to progress as a business, and the resilience shown by every single one of our colleagues has proven that sometimes it takes a challenging situation like this to drive the greatest change.

“Hopefully we’ve now seen the worst of this crisis, but we feel reassured that the work we’ve done over the past few months has given us the infrastructure and flexibility to continue to keep our colleagues safe and support our customers, should we find ourselves in the unfortunate position where we have to react once again to this terrible virus.”