This month, we meet up with Sharon Noland at Gazprom Energy.
Please introduce yourself and your current business.
My name is Sharon Noland and I am the head of credit and collections at Gazprom Energy. Gazprom Energy supplies gas and electricity to a wide range of businesses in the UK, France and the Netherlands, ranging from sole traders right up to large corporates. In the UK we have around 30,000 customers including some of the country’s largest gas consumers. Gazprom Energy prices itself on having business energy solutions that are specifically tailored to make it easier to manage and understand energy consumption.
What new best practise did you see in 2020 that will continue to deliver benefits in 202?
Both at Gazprom Energy and in the wider environment agility and adaptability were things that shone through in 2020.The pace of the change and the uncertainty of what was happening meant that businesses have had to adapt to survive. For example, many businesses had to change their product or service so it would be suitable for delivery and adapt their offerings to take greater advantage of online opportunities.
Debt and cash became a high priority item for most businesses in 2020 providing a good opportunity to raise the profile of debt management. Data and using it for intelligent data insight become paramount to identify risk areas in the business and increase the understanding of the composition of the customer base and predict customer behaviour. Good system, processes and data insight were key themes around best practice in 2020. We started the process of implementing a new debt management system in January 2020 which will benefit us and allow us to work smarter in many ways as we enter 2021.
How do you motivate and inspire colleagues working from home from an employee engagement perspective and maintain a sense of ‘team’?
Many businesses had to adapt quickly to a virtual environment in 2020 and we were no different. Literally overnight we moved from being a fully office-based team to a virtual team. We also hired a number of new people into the team last year so we had the extra challenge of welcoming and training new people virtually. We have people in the team that have been with us for 6 months that have never seen the office or met any of the team in person.
To foster a sense of team and culture your communication style has to adapt and evolve. It’s important to structure and plan your communication touchpoints in a different way. Informal communications is harder when you are remote so it needs to be thought about and planned. For example, within the team we have a daily skype group chat which is an informal channel to say morning and have some team banter. The team leaders also have daily short catch up meetings and I try to do a monthly virtual tea and talk with the team which is a chance to have an informal catch up separate from our more formal team meetings. This informal communication channel is echoed across the wider business where there are also tea and talks and daily virtual kitchen catch ups. Gazprom Energy has a really strong focus on employee wellbeing and support and run a lot of events that help connect people like; yoga sessions, virtual cooking classes, learn a language classes etc.
What new megatrends or paradigm shifts do you expect to see in 2021?
Economy wise there are a number of impacts happening because of Covid-19.We know many companies will struggle and whilst it’s not happened yet it’s expected that we will see a steep rise in insolvencies as funding/grants run out.
There has been an acceleration of some trends that we were already seeing like the paradigm shift in the retail sector moving from high street to online. This has historically been driven by the convenience, ease and ability to compare prices when online shopping but Covid-19 has and will continue to speed up closures on the high street.
Covid-19 has also accelerated the shift towards agile working and a focus on delivery and results rather than hours spent in the office. This can help support work life balance and increase productivity but it can also blur the lines between work and home and remove the social elements of the work environment. It’s a delicate balance and I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach as everyone individual preferences and own family circumstances are different. Being someone that has 2 young children I have personally enjoyed being able to spend more time at home and less time commuting in traffic.