Long reads

How are people teams responding to coronavirus? …Clarity

6 May 2020 By Siobhan Palmer

The business travel company is keeping furloughed and home working staff up to date with a regular podcast while preparing to eventually return to its offices

The organisation

Clarity works with businesses to coordinate and manage their travel, including by arranging domestic and international flights, accommodation and client events. The company works across 16 offices in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands and has 620 employees. Working in travel and hospitality, the organisation was probably among the first to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and is likely to be one of the last to no longer be impacted, says group HR director Jane Harrington.

Impact so far

At first business became extremely busy for Clarity, with clients seeking support in adapting their travel in light of the outbreak, says Harrington. “Even before the [government] briefings about essential travel came out, we saw a lot of clients protecting their employees by either stopping travelling altogether, or locking it down,” she says. 

However, now nothing but essential travel is the norm for many companies, and there are significantly fewer people making business trips, it’s a very quiet time for the organisation. Clarity also has a sports division, which manages travel and hospitality for football and rugby clubs. This has inevitably been hugely affected by the shutdown of league matches across Europe. 

Harrington says that between 50 and 60 per cent of Clarity’s staff are currently on furlough, and she expects them to remain so until the end of June – the full length of the job retention scheme as it currently stands (with government talks ongoing about winding the scheme down from July). All other employees have transitioned to home working. 

Communication

The transition to widespread working from home and furloughing workers has been a big challenge for the company. “It's hard enough to communicate consistently to 16 offices when there's people in them,” Harrington says. “So try communicating to 620 people spread across countries who are trying to deal with wrapping their head around working remotely. It's been a massive cultural change for us.”

Throughout the crisis, Clarity has run a daily town hall call with all managers, communicating the current situation as it develops. “We decided at the start that we were probably going to [deliberately] over-communicate,” Harrington explains. 

On top of daily town halls, it was important to create a number of channels through which staff could connect, Harrington says. An all-staff newsletter answers FAQs, and managers are encouraged to check on their teams via Zoom where possible. 

Lockdown podcast

The organisation has also set up an internal podcast to keep staff up to date and connected. The marketing department has run successful external travel industry podcasts for a couple of years, and Harrington has been involved in short internal podcasts before. So she and other senior staff are now remotely producing a podcast she dubs a “brightside radio show”. 

“Initially it was quite serious, and it was an opportunity for our staff to ask any questions they wanted – no questions were off limits,” Harrington says. “Once we got through all the furlough and holiday questions, it morphed into a more fun and social radio show”. 

The questions Harrington and her colleagues have answered on the show range from ‘What's your favourite crisp?’ to ‘I just find myself crying all the time, is that normal?’ “Anything that's asked we will try and answer, and just try and make people feel a bit better,” she says. 

The podcast is certainly proving a success so far, with around 300 employees tuning in to each episode. A new episode is released three times a week. Harrington says between 20 and 25 questions are typically submitted to the podcast each day. 

The future

Harrington believes that, despite the challenges, the organisation is working well under lockdown. HR is currently grappling with preparing for when lockdown measures are lifted. However, without any clear guidance or timeframes on the table yet, this is still at the discussion stage. Harrington says a number of plans are in development, but nothing has been set in stone yet, and employees still need to be consulted. However, one thing she is sure about is that a lot of staff won’t be returning to the office any time soon. 

“I don't think we're in any hurry to rush people back into the office – we're working really well remotely,” she says. Staff wellbeing and mental health initiatives had already been being ramped up over the last 18 months, and mental health ambassadors have still been able to carry out their roles and support staff while working from home, Harrington says.

She believes even after lockdown measures are lifted, more employees will have the opportunity to work remotely and flexibly now all the right infrastructure is in place: “I think home working [and] working different shifts is something we'll definitely continue. It's not something we naturally wanted to do obviously, but we've proved it can work. So with some refinements and some practice, I think we will carry it on.” 

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