The pandemic has accelerated an inevitable process of digitalization and transition to ‘flexible working’

The pandemic has accelerated an inevitable process of digitalization and transition to ‘flexible working’

In Australia and New Zealand, Luxottica has developed an organization that combines its Wholesale branch with a strong presence in the Retail sector through OPSM, the largest optical shop chain in Australia and New Zealand, Laubman & Pank, Ray-Ban and Sunglass Hut, the world’s leading sunglass chain.

The pandemic has accelerated an inevitable process of digitalization and transition to ‘flexible working’

What effects has COVID-19 had on our market? We asked Bernardino Pedone, HR Director for Australia & New Zealand, to tell us about his experience in recent months, from lockdown to recovery.

Tell us more about the impact of COVID-19 in Australia & New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand are both rather isolated countries due to their geographical location, and to some extent this has helped to contain the spread of the virus. That said, although the number of cases is not comparable to that of other countries, the effects of the pandemic have presented us with a fair number of challenges.

From the outset, our priority has been to protect our employees by ensuring the long-term sustainability of the business.

So far the results have been markedly positive, partly thanks to the support of the respective governments, which have launched very effective business support plans.

In terms of the retail business, Sunglass Hut and Oakley have been the most affected markets, while the optical business companies (OPSM and Laubman & Pank) have continued to operate more stably as an “essential service”.

The Wholesale market has coped well during this period and is already showing signs of recovery, which bodes well for the end of the year.

Obviously, everything that has been accomplished so far has required great sacrifices from the whole organization, with no exceptions, and everyone has contributed in a different way to achieving a common goal.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone, starting with the staff of the 650 or so stores, for the enormous dedication, maturity, flexibility and professionalism that they have shown in these difficult months.

What is your biggest professional challenge today?

Currently the biggest challenge for me is having to play a frontline role in handling a crisis that is completely uncertain and unpredictable, a challenge shared by all my HR colleagues around the world.

In this context it is necessary to take decisions – at times very important and in a short timeframe –, each of which will have an impact on people.

What is your biggest personal challenge?

Well, from a strictly personal point of view, definitely the fact that I haven’t been able to return to Italy to visit family and friends. Sydney is a fantastic city and Australia is a country full of beautiful places to discover, but sometimes I can’t hide that I get a little homesick.

How do you see the pandemic changing the way we work?

In my view, the answer is simple. The pandemic has simply accelerated an inevitable process of digitalization and transition to ‘flexible working’ that has been underway for some time.

In our specific case, we were already planning to introduce Smart Working at the start of the year, following a test conducted in the Milan offices. The arrival of COVID “forced” us to implement a compulsory and accelerated “pilot project”, which nonetheless demonstrated our ability to collaborate remotely without negatively impacting our productivity.

New technologies now make it possible to collaborate remotely in a way that was unthinkable a few years ago and we will certainly be ready to take advantage of all the new opportunities offered to us. A prime example of this is the Luxottica University platform, which, partly thanks to the introduction of Virtual Classrooms, has made training available at any time and on any device, reducing the cost of providing training and making it more widely accessible.

Finally, I am anticipating the potential evolution of the “office concept” in a broader sense, involving a redesign of the layouts and use of the available physical spaces.

From an HR perspective, how do you see this approach evolving with the “new normal”?

We will continue to play a leading role in guiding the organization and our employees along the continuous path of rapid transformation underway in recent years.

It will be very important to think strategically and to find the right balance between tradition and innovation, preserving our values while trying to keep up with the times. 

We will have to help our leaders to manage teams at an increasingly virtual level, providing them with the right training and tools to seize all the opportunities and minimize the difficulties associated with this new way of working. I am thinking, for example, of how it can change the way we coach, give feedback or remotely manage a performance management process.

Another challenge will certainly be to promote social interaction and to continue to unite and motivate teams that will not see each other as frequently in the office.

What skills do you think are crucial for employees to develop?

Three in particular come to mind:

  1. Knowing how to work in an increasingly digital context, using the new technologies available
  2. The ability to adapt to change and business needs that are constantly and rapidly evolving
  3. The ability to remotely build and maintain relationships, using communicative and interpersonal skills.

How was the transition from “working at home” to “working at the office”?

We were away from the office since 11 March, when we decided to implement Smart Working from one day to the next due to a suspected case of COVID-19 in our building.

In just a few hours we made it possible for 300 people to work from home without any interruption to the business, thanks to the incredible work of several teams, most notably IT and HR.

After adapting the offices to the new health and safety regulations, we planned to return at the start of August, but then due to a second wave of totally unexpected cases we had to postpone for a couple of months. We have temporarily reopened the offices in October, with access on a voluntary basis and naturally with reduced capacity.

This decision will enable a certain degree of flexibility and will allow us to meet the needs of those who believe they can be more productive in the office, while also offering an opportunity to continue working from home to those who, for various reasons, want to opt for this solution.

Published on Oct 05 2020