Severine Lafont is HR Director at the international School of Geneva which was the world’s first international school. Built in 1924 along with the League of Nations, it is the birthplace of the International Baccalaureate which is in force in more than 3’500 schools across the world.
Ms Lafont’s extensive HR experience was gained across several industry verticals including financial services and construction. Her track record strengths include talent identification, people management and retention. Ms Lafont is also Non-Executive Director and Board member of the Addactis Group – a risk tech management company for the insurance sector.
We asked Ms Lafont about the changes she and her team of 9 staff have seen or implemented as a result of Covid-19 and which ones she sees as becoming permanent. Here Ms Lafont gives a valuable insight into the world of HR offering her views on a range of related topics.
Accurity: What general observations have you made since the outbreak of Covid-19 on the effect this situation has had on your teams and business? And as a result, on your role focus?
Working from home (WFH) has been implemented overnight for all employees and quite successfully. Classes have taken place normally, with of course some adaptation, and have improved over the weeks. Feedback from parents (our key clients) has been excellent.
From a HR perspective, the need for support to managers and employees has increased substantially. The larger the physical distance between teams, the closer the social contact needs to be and HR has a strong role in this area. HR leaders need to encourage their team, care for them more than ever in this situation. Long term projects can move forward but some of them are frozen.
Accurity: Do you see a window of opportunity now to make changes to existing HR business systems and/or processes as a result of recent events? Would you expect to revert back to the pre-coronavirus state in terms of business activity when the current situation is over?
A crisis situation such as this one is a threat but also an opportunity to improve and reconsider the purpose of our role. I see two major areas of change or continuing change – automation will continue to progress. All projects dedicated to improving HR processes e.g. zero paper, automated online systems, etc., will continue – WFH will increase even for some roles which were considered not possible before Covid-19; some employees have figured out that they are more efficient and some managers have experienced a new way of managing at distance which works, but which some were sceptical about before being forced to adapt. WFH is a question of confidence and of being dependable and we all experience this.
Accurity: Given that the “stay-at-home-economy” brought about by Covid-19 could initiate and accelerate future change, what things might you see as changing temporarily or permanently in your current work sector or any of the other sectors that you may have worked in as a result?
The major change is that we will make a better use of face-to-face meetings and physical interactions, but also have more faith in online collaboration tools and use them where there is no value added in meeting physically. We are currently experiencing the benefits of distance working tools, but at the same time their limits, albeit the speed of improvement of the online tools over the last few weeks has been impressive. In terms of education, teachers have had to rethink their approach, though the core pedagogical underpinnings remain the same. The challenge post Covid-19 will be to reach the right balance between face-to-face learning and digital learning.
Accurity: As a result of Covid-19, would you see an opportunity to cut back on business or educational travel in future and use tools such as Skype or Zoom more and to only conduct face-to-face meetings when absolutely essential?
Educational meetings are also important from a networking perspective and this is something that cannot take place in a Skype or Zoom class. But if your purpose is to be taught something specific either in terms of hard or soft skills, then these tools are appropriate. The right balance between face-to-face meetings and digital ones will be a challenge; it is not a dogmatic approach but a pragmatic, ad-hoc based one.
Accurity: Assuming at least part of your team was set up for homeworking – what observations have you already made and what recommendations (e.g. such as training or wellbeing counselling) would you consider as being important?
There are 3 points: 1. People work hard, they are fully engaged to fulfil their duties and keen to work the extra mile for it. 2. Management and HR leaders need to care about each of their team members, from a personal wellbeing perspective. 3. Important to have more regular team meetings than ever to exchange best practice, share cases, help each other with technology.
Accurity: Would you consider continuing with homeworking at least for certain staff members after Covid-19 resides?
Absolutely yes, on a voluntary basis, but probably only one day per week. Staff members working remotely should be available all the time during working hours, attend meetings remotely. You should not even notice they are at home!
The following questions were answered Michael Kewley, Director of Marketing and Stakeholders Relations…
Accurity: What special client or prospect student communications if any, have you set up to keep them reassured, informed and updated on internal and external developments during this time?
Our focus, beyond staff, has been on ensuring that current student families have been kept up to date as the rapidly evolving situation unfolded. A Covid-19 management team was instigated early on, and a response matrix developed which mapped out how we would respond as the situation changed, and which was itself shared with the community so that there would be no surprises.
This started before there were any cases in Switzerland and enabled us to react swiftly as there were cases first close by, and then within our direct community. We sent email communications every other day, on average, and updated our intranet page every day. We also set up a web-form to gather questions, and published answers to a FAQ document, which has been kept up to date.
One of the key things has been to be highly reactive, generally getting back to people within hours of their questions and ensuring that people knew that we were basing our decisions on public health authorities, not “making it up as we went along”.
Accurity: What special actions or measures have you introduced as a result of the current situation and what is your experience so far with these measures?
The key change has been to move our entire educational provision online instead of on campus. This has caused teachers to rethink their pedagogical practice and meant that they have needed to adapt to the possibilities of new technologies and manage around their limits. We have maintained some Extra Curricular Activities which could be carried out online (e.g. music lessons and language classes) but cancelled other activities like football or netball which can’t be carried out safely at a distance.
Founded in 1998, Accurity GmbH has worked with over 400 companies and served more than 3’000 contractors.
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