The Impact of the Pandemic on the Future of Work

With the recent recognition of Mercury’s CEO as No. 1 on Glassdoor’s “25 Highest-Rated CEOs During COVID-19,” watch as Emma Woodthorpe, CHRO, discusses what HR and the company as a whole have done to protect employees and customers alike since the onset of the pandemic. Subjects include flexibility, stronger collaboration, the transformation of digital tools for daily work, a continuance of empathy, patience and kindness, and efforts to digitally continue inclusiveness. Learn why she says, “The future of work is now.”

Read the transcript.

Ralph Guevarez:

Hello and welcome to Mercury Now, a podcast series brought to you by Mercury Systems. I am your host, Ralph Guevarez and today’s topic, the impact of the pandemic on the future of work. Joining me is Emma Woodthorpe, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer here at Mercury. Emma, good day and welcome to the show.

Emma Woodthorpe:

Thanks Ralph. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Ralph Guevarez:

Thank you. Now, Emma, before we get started, can you please give our listeners a brief background on your current role here at Mercury?

Emma Woodthorpe:

Absolutely. So I am, as you said, the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer of Mercury. I am responsible for the people strategy for the company, that is everything from talent attraction, talent retention, how people learn, the compensation and benefits and everything that you think would normally go in HR. I’m also though one of the leaders that’s now with HR supporting our team members in the pandemic. Now, as we thought about the HR strategy, this was never part of our HR strategy, but it’s something now that all of us are obviously dealing with, and HR is a big part of that right now.

Ralph Guevarez:

Thanks, Emma. Now, as the pandemic resets major work trends, HR leaders need to evaluate how each trend will impact their organization. But before we discuss those, can you first give us a quick overview of how Mercury has addressed the pandemic, in say the last six months?

Emma Woodthorpe:

Absolutely. Yeah. I’ll never forget a day in January when Mark Aslett, our CEO, came into my office, the virus was still in Asia and was starting to show up in Europe and he walked in and said, “It’s going to get really bad and it’s going get really bad quickly.” And you kind of have two choices at that point, is you can either look at him and go, “I think you’re crazy.” Or you can look and go, “Okay, what do we think we need to do?” I made the second choice of going, “Okay, what do we need to do?” And that was the start of the work that has been ongoing ever since, to support our team members in the company. And as we thought about how we organize this, it is important to us to be able to focus and organize as a company.

Emma Woodthorpe:

And so, we came up with four top priorities that were very important to us. Number one, that has been at the heart of everything that we have done has been to protect the health safety and the livelihoods of our employees. But beyond that, we are a public company and obviously we have customers, and so we needed to make sure that we actually could mitigate or reduce the operational and financial risks to our business. In fact, partly through that helps us protect the livelihoods of our employees. We also need to make sure we could deliver on our commitments to our customers and our shareholders. We have a purpose that allows us to support the ongoing security of our nation and that is really important to us in everything we do. So, one of the things you see about these four goals is they stack up on top of each other, but the most important one was always that protecting the health and safety and livelihoods of our employees.

Ralph Guevarez:

Thank you. Now, I assume that these priorities then shaped specific initiatives you implemented on behalf of both the employees and the business?

Emma Woodthorpe:

Yes. It was very interesting as we started to go through this. One of the things about Mercury is we are a very fast paced, high growth company, which means we have to be adaptable and agile. We’ve acquired 11 companies in the last four years and when you do that, you have to being able to move quickly to integrate. And that really helped us in this time, as we were able to pivot and adapt in a way that most companies weren’t able to, while companies were still figuring out what to do, we had already put a number of programs in place and started figuring out what we were going to do with our workforce. So, if you look at the actions we’ve taken … I can’t go through all these. I would take an hour to go through everything we’ve done, but I’m going to highlight a couple that I think are really important.

Emma Woodthorpe:

One of the things we did back in March was set up an emergency relief fund for our employees and also for our contractors, where they could get help if they needed it, financial help, if they had things they needed in terms of either food or whatever it was they needed. What we realized is the impact of this, as we’ve said, it’s a human crisis, when people’s families were losing jobs we were asking our people to come on site, which meant they couldn’t necessarily get to grocery stores. And they were challenged even just to be able to go find places to get food and then have to pay for that. And so, we set up a fund that basically they could ask and request money from to help them with anything they needed. That fund is still there, we haven’t taken that fund away.

Emma Woodthorpe:

Our employees still know they can get access to financial help if they need it. If you look over at business continuity, one of the things I think our operations team did an incredible job on very early on was recognizing that we would have issues in our supply chain. This isn’t an impact to just our company, it was an impact to companies that were supplying us. And so, making sure that our supply chain was secure, making sure that we were able to receive the inventory that we needed, pre-buying if we needed to, to make sure we had it available, so we could still deliver to our customers was an incredible piece of work that that team did. And actually really attributes to why, if you look at our earnings for our last fiscal year, we were able to hit our targets.

Emma Woodthorpe:

If I go down to open and transparent communication, we’ve done a lot. This is very important. Communication is incredibly important and has never been more important than during this time. We had a lot of calls with our managers. We do surveys with our employees, we listen, we take action, but we also implemented a Mercury pledge and this was the way we would work together during this time. And we took that and we’ve committed to that so much so we actually put it on a little gift box that came with a mask and also some hand sanitizer and lip balm for each of our employees, to tell them how serious we were. The last thing we’ve done that I’m going to highlight on this is we’ve had all the protocols that every other company has. We’ve had masks required on our site, in offices or in our manufacturing floor now for 12 weeks.

Emma Woodthorpe:

But we decided to go one step further, as we saw our sites in hotspot, and we saw what was going on with positive cases in those areas and some in our sites. And we were getting concerns from employees about their fear of the virus and positive cases in their areas, we made a decision to bring testing to our sites. So, we’ve partnered with a third party and we’ve brought testing to three of our major manufacturing sites. We’ve actually now performed over three and a half thousand COVID tests on our sites over the last eight weeks. And what we saw was our employees were very thankful that we were willing to take that step to protect them and invest in that. We’ve even had people tell us they believe we’ve saved lives by doing that. We are now taking this to other sites across Mercury because it has been so successful, but that’s a step a lot of companies aren’t taking yet. Which I think is one that people need to start thinking about more, is how do you use testing to protect your sites when you’ve got essential workers on your sites?

Ralph Guevarez:

Now, as a Mercury employee myself, I’ve been impressed with both the speed and comprehensive nature of Mercury’s response. Now, obviously these actions impact our current employees. How about those individuals we’re trying to attract to Mercury, how has the pandemic impacted our recruiting strategies?

Emma Woodthorpe:

So, that was a really interesting story. So, as we saw this unfold back in March, we realized and I realized that maybe we were going to have a problem with our candidate pool, that we might actually see a reduction in people applying to us because people would want to stay where they were, because people would be worried about moving in this time. And I had raised this as an issue and so had my talent attraction team. Actually, what we found was the opposite because what we hadn’t considered and hadn’t factored in were three things. One, the number of companies that did furloughs and then obviously the second is the number of companies that laid off during this time, was beyond anything we expected to happen. And the third was really this whole treatment of employees and the whole way people were feeling their companies were responding to the pandemic. And our employees actually were quite incredible in terms of how they posted on Glassdoor.

Emma Woodthorpe:

When we came into the pandemic, we had a great Glassdoor score. It was a 4.1 Glassdoor score, but now we have a 4.7 and that’s because our employees went out there and posted. And what we saw is candidates starting to look at that and starting to compare us to their company they were working for, and going, “I think I want to go look at this company.” But while we were doing that, we also did some other things. Having realized what was going on, we went all out on our brand and awareness. We ran a huge talent campaign, which really increased our candidate numbers. We increased our candidate referral incentives. We have a very strong program. We’re a very generous [inaudible 00:09:55] program, and we still did more because we wanted to make sure our employees knew that as our best source of candidates, that they were going to be rewarded for continuing to provide people for key roles.

Emma Woodthorpe:

I think one of our biggest challenges was taking this whole thing virtual. I mean, suddenly half our workforce was out and I should have mentioned that earlier, 50% of our workforce went out on March 13th to work remotely. And 50% stayed in the office. So, all of a sudden we found a lot of our interviewers weren’t in the office and we couldn’t interview the candidates in the office and we couldn’t onboard people in the office. And so, we had to create this virtual way of doing this. The team did a phenomenal job. They did this in less than 10 days, to bring this up and actually start to work with it. But that was probably one of the biggest things we had to do during this.

Emma Woodthorpe:

And again, the team, we haven’t missed a beat. We’ve actually hired more people in this time than we’ve ever hired, which was not what I would’ve said that would have happened when I was thinking about this at the start of this in March. Now, Ralph, I’m going to pick on you a little bit here, because I remember seeing a video that you made, that I saw on LinkedIn, about three weeks after you joined us, because you joined us right before the pandemic. And it was talking about your experience of Mercury and it made me smile. But what was your experience of coming into Mercury in a time like this?

Ralph Guevarez:

In the beginning, in all honesty, I was extremely nervous. Not knowing Mercury as a company, just in the research that I did leading up to my interview. It was a little unsettling at first and because, think about it, I’m hired, two weeks later I’m sent home. A few days later, one by one all my trade shows are being canceled due to the pandemic. So, here I am sitting there going, “What do I do now?” And then a voice in my head who shall be named Taner Kodanaz said, “What do you know about podcasts?” I said, “Audio files.” And he says, “Learn more.” And I went home and I started digging into researching podcasts, how to develop them, how to produce them. What are the equipment requirements, software?

Ralph Guevarez:

Reached out to a few people, saw an interview with you and Christopher Rainey on LinkedIn, and then just started building this platform that we have now, that we didn’t have before. And I’m happy to say that we are now on Apple Music, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Buzzsprout, we’re spreading the good word of Mercury through external channels that we never had access to before. So, I was very fortunate. I think the timing was right for me to think out of the box and Mercury allowed me to do that, which was the best part of my onboarding. But thank you for putting me on the spot, I appreciate that.

Emma Woodthorpe:

Well, the reason I did that, because I think that’s a great example of what we’ve seen in the last six months with our team members. I’ve always been proud to be a leader at this company, and I’ve been proud of the people that work for us, but never more than now. I mean, their adaptability, their flexibility, to tell your 900 employees, “You now have to wear masks every day on the sites. No argument. I don’t care where you are in the building, the office you’re going to wear a mask.” The way they took that on as we adapted to testing, as we adapted to working in this remote on-site environment, the company and the employees … That example of what you just said is adapting is very much at the heart of who we are, and I’ve never seen more from our employees than I’ve seen now. It’s been an incredible experience to watch how this company has adapted.

Ralph Guevarez:

Yeah. I will say that the MLT at Mercury is second to none. I’ve been very fortunate to be part of some very talented marketing departments and Mercury has completely raised the bar on what a true marketing team is. So, shout out to my marketing colleagues. Now, the pandemic has clearly impacted every aspect of our business. Now, I know it’s difficult to make predictions, especially both the future, but could you share how you think the impact of the pandemic has turned the future of work as a new direction?

Emma Woodthorpe:

Yeah. So, that’s a really interesting question and it certainly has, and it’s interesting this statement the future of work. It’s one that started appearing about three or four months ago, where people go, “Okay, what’s this going to look like in 12 months? What are we going to walk back into? How’s this going to be?” And then, as we started to bring up our future of work team, which we have, and I woke up one morning while drinking my tea because I’m English and I realized the future of work wasn’t in 12 months. It wasn’t in six months. It was now. We were already in it because we have no idea how long we’re going to have to adapt to what’s going on. We may have issues. We may have places where we go back into lockdown. We may have hotspots and we have to be able to adapt to all of that.

Emma Woodthorpe:

And so, I challenge companies who are thinking and planning 12 months out to say, “You need to be doing it for right now. Forget that right now, what are you doing right now to continue to drive collaboration and engagement in your companies?” Now, as we’ve seen this, that flexible work environment has emerged and it’s emerging now, that’s a really important point. We’ve got people that we’ve had to rotate in and out because of the nature of their role, and we’re figuring out how to do that. We’re going to figure out how to do this more broadly so we can bring people back safely because we have testing. But it is a question people need to be asking now, not necessarily for three, six, 12 months time, because employees want to know. Collaboration, Mercury was never a work-from-home company, and so as we moved to this environment, we’ve actually had to learn now how to collaborate.

Emma Woodthorpe:

This is different for us. This is different for many companies. There are companies who do this very well remotely because they were built to be remote. We were not, and many companies were not, and our employees did not choose to do what we’ve asked them to do. So that collaboration and how you do that, how you use video, how you use tools is really, really important.

Emma Woodthorpe:

And that goes to digital transformation. I think everybody you talk to will say, the transformation of using digital tools, whether it be collaboration towards video conferencing, connectivity, how do you have happy hours and connect together when you can’t see each other? It has been incredible. How do you do training? How do you do events? And my feeling is, a lot of that’s not going to go away, it’s going to stick longer than six months, but if we don’t think about it now, if we continue to think six months out, 12 months out, this is what’s going to happen when it’s all over, we’re going to miss something and we’re going to wake up one day as companies and realize we lost something along the way, if we don’t work on this now.

Emma Woodthorpe:

I think one really important point is empathy. The empathy that we have to have and have had to have needs to continue. We have said patience, empathy and kindness are two other things that are really important to us right now because this is a time, as we’ve said, that’s very human and this is a time of inclusiveness. And we have to make sure that as people have kids running around their home or cats, like mine do, who walk across the desk now and again, and those on-site who are feeling the stress of being on-site and trying to continue to manufacture, being supportive and kind during this time is really important.

Ralph Guevarez:

Now, those are some interesting questions that clearly have been addressed. How should Mercury then move through this transition of work? Is it a massive change or incremental?

Emma Woodthorpe:

So, I think in some places it will be a big change for us and in some ways it’s going to be an incremental change, and let me explain that. So, as I said earlier, we were never a work-from- home company. We’ve never been a work-from-home company. We believe collaboration and creativity, innovation happen when you’re together. What we’ve realized is actually we can make this work. We can actually do this while being remote. It’s harder, it’s more work, but we can make this happen. And actually what our team members are asking us for is flexibility. And so, flexibility to be in the office and be at home and work from home at times, not one or the other. And so, we’re going through a process right now to say, okay, as we look at our roles, which ones clearly just have to be in the office?

Emma Woodthorpe:

There are roles clearly, we’re a manufacturing company, if you’re manufacturing parts, you’re testing parts, you need to be in the facility, but we do have roles that can be flexible. So, we’re looking at all of that to say, okay, what have we learned and how do we give that flexibility? The second one to me is incremental, that inclusive culture. We’ve always been an inclusive culture. We’re a very strong culture. We’ve got very strong values and part of that is how we bring people together and the inclusiveness. We’re learning how to do that differently because we’re now doing it on video, we’re now having to bring on-site and off-site people together in a different way, because we can’t be in the same room. So, I would say that’s an incremental learning, development focus area for us. And what we’re trying to do is not lose who we are, not lose that inclusiveness we have but continue to grow on that.

Emma Woodthorpe:

And then, the one I think, again, it’s a big change for us again, because we like being together. We like people being face-to-face, so that they get to know each other, but having to take things digital. So, having to think about our learning and development being entirely online, at least for the next 12 months and maybe longer, and how we do that in a way … And it’s different, you can’t have people in a classroom for three days online. It doesn’t work. So, how do we do this differently? So, that people can have that great experience, do it in a way that they’re not exhausted and also can network still with each other and get to know each other. That’s a big change from the way we were working before and it’s one we’re looking at in terms of, again, how we do that for the future.

Emma Woodthorpe:

So, it’s really, really all about our people. You look at those, it’s all about our people. It’s all about what can we do to make sure that we’re giving them the best experience, giving them the best opportunity? And again, going back to protecting their health, safety and livelihoods.

Ralph Guevarez:

Emma, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure having you. I appreciate all your insights and our journey together into the future of work at Mercury. I wish you the best of luck and thank you for joining me. I look forward to having you on the show again.

Emma Woodthorpe:

Thanks, Ralph. It’s been a pleasure to be on with you.

Ralph Guevarez:

Thank you. This has been another edition of Mercury Now, a podcast series brought to you by Mercury Systems. I am your host, Ralph Guevarez signing off.