Schneider Electric had an enlightened attitude to flexible working and disaster plans in place when the pandemic struck this year. But there was still lessons to learn as Kevin Hanratty explains.
Kevin Hanratty works for Schneider Electric Secure Power Division. He is located in Galway, in the west of Ireland. He is responsible for the Supply Chain Business Process and Systems in use in the Secure Power division globally. Kevin is married to Therese, who is a GP. They have four children – two girls, aged 16 and 11, and two boys, aged 14 and eight.
My role involves quite a lot of travel. While travelling to Manila during January this year for a team meeting, I brought face masks with me as a precaution as there was some residual ash in the atmosphere there as a result of recent volcanic activity. I was there for one week. On my return journey home these masks were needed as a precaution against Covid-19.
This was my JFK moment – remembering where I was and what I was doing when my personal and professional life entered an unplanned and unexpected period of destruction, and rebuilding.
Upon return to my office things seemed to be like many other crises that we had managed our way through before, such as H1N1. Revisiting and preparing our disaster recovery plan, assessing risk levels and making sure that we were prepared for what we thought this might bring us. Leading a global team means that we have encountered different events over the years and have had to cope with them.
This time it was different. All of our teams were impacted – everywhere, at once. It made an immediate pivot towards working from home the only real solution. Schneider Electric has excellent digital capabilities so for the most part this was possible, though not always easy. My team responded very well. We really kept the show on the road with little impact to those we support.
And then came the personal stuff – the dad stuff. My wife is a GP and between the two of us and the support of some great childcare over the years we had developed a regime that worked for us. Looking back now – I really can’t believe how lucky we were to find such a super balance. Making lunches, school drop-off, pick-up, homework, housework, after school activity, and so on. Just as Covid was throwing my professional life into a period of extreme change – it began to hit home life too.
As if all at once, the children were all home based too. But not on holiday – they had schoolwork to do. Continuing with our childcare was not possible and with the time demands on my wife as a GP, this left me with a lot to do. The first thing we had to do was find a schedule, then find space.
In so far as possible we kept our work and school schedules and found this very helpful. We got up early, had breakfast and set about our work for the morning. Two of our children are in secondary school. For them work was almost identical to mine – working through a series of Teams, Skype, Zoom and on-line submissions. I was very impressed with how they adapted.
For my younger two, it was a little trickier and this required some creativity. My wife would set out homework for my daughter and she would work her way through that for the morning. My son would share an office with me and he would do his work, looking for a helping hand from time to time from myself. He soon got to know the signals for when it was ok to ask dad or when he was on a call. For the afternoons I would set a project of some sort or another, art, cookery, sport, etc
So, my day for a couple of months was a mix of meetings, conference calls, mealtimes, IT support, education, mediation, first aid, on-line shopping, parcel tracking, laundry, dishwasher loading, and moral support. The flexibility that Schneider Electric afforded me during this time was invaluable.
There was a certain structured schizophrenia to the day. Hitting the mute button transforms the Business analyst to a Dad. When discussing Supply Chain Optimisation software – creeping thoughts of chicken goujons in the oven and if we have enough ketchup, is the washing machine on, did I cancel the hotel for the upcoming break we can no longer do, etc
If I wanted to stay ahead of my work, I had to stay ahead of hunger, boredom, and bandwidth/connectivity. If you allow any one of these to interrupt your day – you could spend hours trying to recover.
The lockdown experience of us all working from home was one that I will look back fondly on. Although I am also glad that it is behind us, at least for the moment.
Now that the children are back in school there is a more serene feel to working from the home office. Part of me misses the craziness of us all being at home together. Lunch time is certainly less interesting. I am looking forward to getting back to the company office – but office life has changed. For the foreseeable future the social interactions that make this enjoyable are very limited.
I am fortunate to work for Schneider Electric. During the past months the company has listened attentively to its employees and is increasing the flexibility in our working arrangements on a permanent basis. We are moving more towards using our judgement to know when the home office is more productive than the company office.
What that new balance will be for me, I am not quite sure yet. I am sure it will involve less travel, more time at home, and, as long as I have the self-discipline to switch off when not working, it will probably lead to a more enjoyable balance.