Leading in Crisis. A series of blog posts that we recently launched on ergodotisi, about how corporate leadership deals with the crisis caused by the pandemic. In this blog post, we focus on Mr. Andreas Tziarras and OSM Maritime Group.

Who Is Who: Andreas Tziarras

Mr. Tziarras studied Sociology at the University of Cyprus and got his Masters Degree on Human Resources Management from CIIM. He also holds certifications on Behavioral Analysis and International Position Evaluation, among others.

He joined OSM Maritime Group in 2014 and played an integral role in growing the Cyprus office from 9 to 50 employees. During his 6 years of experience in the shipping industry with OSM, his focus has been on the people – the employees – and the overall organizational development of the Group. He is currently the Head of the Human Resources (HR) Department.

Tell us a few things about OSM Maritime Group and its values

The OSM Maritime Group is the leading provider of full-service solutions to the Offshore and Maritime Industry. It brings over 25 years of experience in the Maritime Industry, more than 11,000 employees, 30 office locations, 500 vessels under management.

Our Group’s philosophy and working ethics were set from the establishment of the company and engraved its DNA by our chairman and main shareholder, Bjørn Tore Larsen.

The four core values that guide and characterize our staff are:

  • Responsible
  • Team builder
  • Friendly
  • Always On

We are a service offering organization and the success of the company is awarded individually to each employee of OSM. Our motto is, “It’s all about people”; trying to live up to it we strive to be a home for our people and an asset to society.

Did you expect that Covid-19 will have such consequences?

The recent Covid-19 pandemic presented the whole world with many challenges and our company was no exception. In January 2020 I was travelling in Singapore and the Philippines where the virus had already spread. Most of the people started wearing masks, exercising social distancing while the authorities were already using thermal cameras at the airports and medical thermometers at hotel entrances. I experienced the consequences of the crisis in real life, and yet at the same time it still felt far from home. It was expected that the virus would have been contained in Asia and prevented from becoming a global pandemic.

When did you decide to take measures?

When I returned to Cyprus in February, the virus had started spreading to Europe. Our company had already scheduled weekly briefings with updates on Covid-19 due to the global nature of our operations. When Greece had the first confirmed case of Covid-19 I was informed by colleagues and it felt very close to home as many Cypriots travel to Greece often for business and pleasure. That was when we decided that we must be proactive and start taking measures. Until then the government had not announced any measures.

What measures did you implement and what was the toughest decision?

  • The initial measures

In the beginning we started asking the employees who had pre-existing medical conditions and those who had been abroad to start working from home. At the same time we stopped accepting visitors at the office. In addition, we placed antiseptic gels in all public areas of our building and started measuring temperature of all employees and suppliers.

  • The management meeting

As the situation was developing, and before the government imposed any restrictive measures, we held a Management Meeting and decided to ask all the employees to work from home. This was the most tough decision at the time. No other company that we knew of had taken such a decision, but we took a calculated risk based on the knowledge and experience we garnered from offices of ours in other countries that were already operating under those conditions. Having the technological infrastructure and our priority being the safety of our people it was doable and, above all, the right thing to do.

  • Equipment distribution

We knew that “working from home” came with different challenges in terms of tools, well-being, collaboration and communication. We asked people to come by the office the first two days to get any equipment they need, such as laptops, screens, cameras, printers and even chairs, for people to have as comfortable a set up as possible. It is important to mention that we already had all modern tools and relevant applications and softwares to work independently out of the office – especially in our 24/7 business. 

  • Working From Home Guidelines

After a couple of days, we developed “Working from Home Guidelines” which included a guide for protective measures against Covid-19; tips for well-being and productivity, training for cybersecurity, and guidelines on how to ask support from the company. Most importantly, we recommended 14 online courses from experts to help employees to effectively work remotely, through our online LinkedIn Learning platform. Looking back, the “working from home” setup worked out much better than I initially expected. The main two reasons I believe it worked so well is the responsibility and self-motivation that characterise our employees and the fast and flexible approach from Management to cater for individual needs. The result was to have effective business continuity on all of our operations.

  • Mindful and Fit

Having in mind that being confined at home can be mentally and physically challenging, we established a weekly online live event called “Mindful and Fit” during which a coach gave well-being tips and demonstrated fitness activities. 

  • Clarity, updates, questions

Moreover, in the course of this whole situation communication was key. Therefore we made sure that we sent emails out to all our employees with updates about the developments and the actions taken by the company. In addition, we established a bi-weekly webcast where all employees can join, get updates from the Management and ask questions.

What was the employees reaction to all these?

We communicated this during the weekend via email and the reaction was moving as there was full support to the plan. I received numerous calls from colleagues with offers of support and solutions to problems we could not see at first glance. One example was when a colleague designed a guide on how to use digital signatures and shared it with everyone.

What struck me in the midst of this crisis was how all employees came together in an instance. Managers set up daily or weekly calls to ensure the team was well, involved and engaged. Colleagues called each other to make sure everything was OK and offered support. We also saw some creative initiatives with colleagues, for example, having “virtual coffee” with each other and assigning themselves a “remote working buddy”.

What is the most important thing for the company right now?

The most important thing for us at this moment is the safety and well-being of all our employees. We have thousands of staff onshore and onboard and we are making sure that they are all safe and have the tools to carry out their duties. Also, more important than ever is to support our customers and find solutions to the operational challenges caused by Covid-19 even as we maintain a strong cash position to ensure long-term sustainability for our company and its people. Lastly, part of our  focus now is how we get back to business as usual in a responsible and sensible manner.

Any predictions for the future and any advice for other companies?

At this point in time, predictions on the business outlook are a risky task but I do have some thoughts about the future of HR in general. There is a growing appreciation of flexibility in the working environment and it is very likely that “working from home” will increasingly become the norm in the future. I believe that old-fashion practices like employees “clocking in and out” of the building and micromanagement as a practice will likely fade away. From this perspective, it will become an imperative for organizations to evolve fast and ensure access to talent.

Based on research that we study and global business projections  there are more chances that the “gig economy” will grow, providing a flexible cost base for the companies and at the same time creating interesting jobs for people who want to be out of the corporate world. The digital way of doing things is here and will stay. For the last decade it was delayed by resistance to change, now it has been forced upon every individual, company and government. My suggestion would be to embrace this new way of working and allow talent to shine by taking on this challenge and finding innovative digital solutions to old and new problems.

Posted by Antonis Papadopoulos

Head of Ergodotisi, ergodotisi.com

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