Global Workforce Agility Report 2021: An Interview with BASF
“We’ve seen a whole new level of resilience and creativity in how we get things done”
BASF is the world’s largest chemical producer, with operations in over 80 countries and a workforce of more than 100,000. We spoke with Heidi Gerhard, BASF’s Head of Talent Strategy, to find out how the organization has been impacted by the pandemic, and the steps they are taking to improve the employee experience in a remote-working environment.
How has your workforce been impacted by the pandemic?
Some of our businesses have been more impacted by Covid-19 than others. We've had to slow down production at some of our plants, particularly in the automotive sector. We've had to furlough some employees. But, for the most part, we've been able to support our workforce through the transition.
Prior to the pandemic, around 7% of our employees worked virtually and we had some flexible arrangements in place where employees could work, say, one day a week from home. But when the pandemic began in March 2020, we saw 40% of the workforce shift to fully virtual overnight. The remainder of the workforce still needed to come onsite in some capacity, owing to the nature of their work, so they either worked in one of our production or manufacturing plants or in our research labs, where access to resources was required.
What impact did the shift to virtual working have on the business?
One of the big learnings that came out of the experience for us is that employees could deliver effectively from their homes. They were able to operate at speed. We saw a whole new level of resilience, creativity, and resourcefulness in how we get things done. Being a very large chemical manufacturer, there's a lot of processes and a lot of policies and a lot of approvals that we tend to work through. And, with the shift, we truly embraced agile working; we're able to really deliver value and impact for our customers through the virtual environment.
How has remote working impacted your ability to recruit talent?
We recognize that the shift to remote working is going to drive a competitive advantage for us as a business, both in terms of how we engage and interact with our customers and our ability to attract a diverse talent pool. So, for example. not being confined to a particular geographic area for recruitment and not requiring talent to be onsite every single day creates an opportunity for us to access new talent, new perspectives and, ultimately, innovation, which delivers value for our customers.
Our research shows that many organizations are making it a priority to rethink the employee experience in a remote-working environment and are taking steps to ensure geographically dispersed employees can still collaborate effectively. What steps are BASF taking around this?
We have a number of technology solutions or platforms to support our employees in the virtual work environment. These tools include not only collaboration platforms, but also relationship-networking platforms.
One of the things that we heard consistently from our employees was that they missed those ‘casual collisions’ that would happen in an office environment. They missed the opportunity to grow their BASF network. We are a very people-centric culture, and relationships are the lifeblood of the organization. So, we've developed an in-house application that is essentially a talent-matching tool. It fosters or creates those casual collisions by pairing up team members for a virtual coffee or lunch, and you can set the parameters based on a variety of different preferences, whether it's within a specific business unit or based on personal interests or geographic area.
We are now looking to develop a team-effectiveness tool that identifies the unique work preferences of each employee, their communication styles and their approach to virtual or remote working. The goal is that the tool will provide insight and perspective for both the team leader and the individual team members to optimize their ways of working across the organization.
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