AMCHAM: Please share with us how you and your team became aware of the Covid medical crisis, and what were the initial first steps that Clearstream took to protect the company, your employees, and your customers?
Philippe Seyll: Clearstream has offices around the globe, several of them being in Asia Pacific, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, or Sydney. Like that, we had to develop precautionary measures against Covid very early, and when it became clear that the situation was developing into a pandemic, we had to quickly react to provide our employees all over the world with a safe and secure working environment.
We deployed a preventive response plan in line with our general business continuity and pandemic plan, as well as with industry standards and regulatory requirements. As Clearstream and the entire Deutsche Börse Group staff was already working with portable devices before, we could react very quickly and enable working from home for all our offices. At the peak, more than 95% of staff worked from home.
AMCHAM: How has business demand from your customers changed during the crisis period?
Being an infrastructure services provider in the financial sector, our main job was to ensure that the markets run as reliably and efficiently as usual – while trading volatility went up and clients had to adjust to the new situation themselves. The importance of electronic and automated processes became ever more visible: for instance, we facilitated easier handling of e-signatures and virtual shareholder services.
While in the beginning, it was all about contingency planning for our customers, we saw a changing need towards intensive communication throughout the following months. Making the additional video call instead of just writing an e-mail was very much appreciated by our clients.
AMCHAM: Has there been disruption to communication flows and what actions have you had to take to ensure effective communications both internally and with customers?
Having clients and employees all over the world, we were already used to virtual communication. The new thing was that it now had to be 100% virtual. After some time, the majority of the companies had ramped up their video call technology, but often they didn’t use the same tools. Sometimes, it was still the good old phone call that worked the best when speaking to clients. Internally, we made sure to stay in touch with everybody. Suddenly, we had thousands of offices more in people’s homes around the world. Daily video calls, social intranet platforms and digital collaboration tools became part of our lives and made sure that nobody felt cut off from communication flows throughout the company.
AMCHAM: What adjustment to physical working schedules and conditions, and what health and safety measures have been implemented to ensure the physical safety and health of your employees? How have you implemented home working, and what challenges have you had to overcome in that regard?
We have implemented high health and safety standards in our offices and continue to communicate basic protective hygiene measures. We also imposed a general business travel ban. To protect employees and clients alike, on-site visits, events, and meetings with external parties – where possible as per local government restrictions – were restricted as much as possible and follow a strict approval protocol to mitigate any potential risk.
Regarding the presence of employees on-site, Clearstream took a responsive three-step and local approach to manage the return to our offices, allowing people to return to the office where and when possible; capacity ranged from maximum 10% (Phase 0) to 30% (Phase 1), maximum 50% (Phase 2) and full capacity (Phase 3).
AMCHAM: What challenges do you face now that the economy is recovering, and how is this “new normal” the same or different from the old normal?
Clearstream has weathered the pandemic well, in business terms, and our quick change to remote working was a relatively seamless exercise, due to timely changes to employee hardware and wider-ranging IT and telephony developments. We have proven that we can do remote working well – and that it has its advantages in certain situations. Therefore, we want to make working conditions and the working environment at Clearstream even more flexible after Corona-related restrictions have been lifted completely. We will implement a hybrid model with a mix of working remotely and on-site, which we will test as a twelve-month pilot phase.
The new model follows our conviction that joint work and personal interaction on-site still represent a special added value and are essential for the success of our future cooperation.
Nonetheless, our basic conviction is that creativity and innovation come from people meeting each other – and not just virtually. The collaborative atmosphere in the office was therefore an important part of our corporate culture even before the outbreak of the Corona pandemic. So, we also started developing a new concept for our spaces that we have already implemented in various locations. The aim is to create spaces for creativity and innovation and to optimize them for flexible collaboration.
AMCHAM: How would you assess the current emotional and mental health of your employees, and are there any steps you are taking to give additional support in this area?
Besides the physical impact of the pandemic, it really has had a big mental effect on everyone. As before, it is particularly important to us at this time to promote cohesion within our individual teams – but also across the whole company. For example, we created a virtual platform where colleagues could exchange tips and tricks to make working from home more pleasant. In October 2020, we put the focus on mutual appreciation with a global “Appreciation Week”: for an entire week, we focused on connecting our colleagues with each other, taking a look “behind the scenes” at our sites, and highlighting special achievements by colleagues on our communication channels. Part of this was also a Group-wide sports challenge, which saw our colleagues walk, run, cycle, etc. for a good cause. Initiatives like these have brought our colleagues closer together, despite all the social distancing rules. Additionally, we ensured extensive communication on mental health support offerings as well as flexible working hours to support our colleagues where they need it.
AMCHAM: What have you learned, and how has your personal management style evolved as a result of this Covid experience?
I think the Covid experience, and particularly the isolation felt by many, has brought about an even more humanized approach to work. You can’t help but see the person behind the position if their children barge into a video call, or they are interrupted by a package being delivered at their door. I have been reminded how different we are as individuals and that work is an important aspect, but only one part of each of our lives. The skill in management is to get the job done, but at the same time – and it was of the utmost importance during the pandemic time – it is to demonstrate even more clearly that human side: to show appreciation, listen to understand and at the same time let people develop their skills! Reinforcing team and community spirit remains an important goal going forward.
Thank you very much Mr. Seyll for this interview!