Yellow Folder Interview Series: Anjanette Murfet – Chief People & Communications Officer, Accolade Wines

 

Given the challenges we’ve all experienced during 2020 and into 2021, Yellow Folder wanted to reach out to a number of executives to understand how COVID-19 has impacted their businesses, their teams, and their ways of working.

In this fourth interview we spoke with Anjanette Murfet, Chief People and Communications Officer – Accolade Wines, who has been fortunate to work in a business that has experienced a pandemic-driven uplift in demand over the past 12 months.

 

 

Question (Yellow Folder): How had COVID-19 impacted your ability to deliver on business objectives?

Answer (Anjanette Murfet): “As we know, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on all businesses. It has required them to pivot quickly and adjust how they engage with their customer base. For the food and beverages industry, lockdown, while challenging, was actually quite interesting for us. Though people weren’t going out, and in response bar and restaurant sales decreased, they were entertaining themselves at home, and so we had a COVID-19 uplift. We were fortunate to be one of the industries that grew during COVID-19, particularly during lockdown. For us, the difficulty was staying in touch with our retail customers, so we increased our digital communications, using virtual platforms to manage those relationships that we would usually build in person.”

Q: How have you led your team through such a challenging time?

A: “At Accolade, we decided to move to working-from-home two and a half weeks before the official lockdown in Australia started. With over 1,400 people employed around the world; it was important for us to be on the front foot. As we had no time to prepare, we focused on ensuring key routines were kept in place such as monthly meetings and regular one-on-one catch ups. Something we found important was turning the video on during our meetings, regardless of if you were in gym gear, physically seeing someone is a lot stronger from a connection point of view. Many people live on their own and so, contact with team members was often the only regular connection they would have.

We invested in more one-on-ones to find out how people were going, and we have all found out more about our co-workers than we ever knew before. We increased our frequency of communications including more town halls, internal messaging, and updates. In our communications, we increased our discussion around promoting a healthy work / life balance and wellbeing. From a leadership perspective, we spoke about taking breaks during the day, going for walks, running, and cycling. We held wellbeing workshops with external experts to showcase new methods for coping with the mental health impacts of COVID on our wellbeing.

Another important element to consider was our operational workforce who work in our vineyards and wineries in South Australia. These people continued to work throughout the pandemic and so we implemented additional measures to ensure their safety and wellbeing at this time and continue to do so.

For our people who experienced more extreme lockdown conditions including the UK and Victoria, we sent our employees care packages, so they knew we were thinking of them. We just kept in touch to make sure that they knew we cared; and our people around the world also reached out to colleagues in different regions to show their support.”

Q: Working remotely, what are some of the successes you have had?

A: “One success is that we have become more conscious of the importance of regular communication and that it does not always have to be ‘formal’. We held a full employee engagement survey in July 2020 to get a baseline number on how our employees were feeling, and then a pulse survey at the end of December 2020 to see how we were tracking with the changes we made to our communications. Our employees told us that they were very happy with our increased communications and how we were communicating with them.

Outside of Accolade Wines, as a society, I believe the majority of businesses and people found that flexible work is a really great thing, and it works. My observation in Australia pre-COVID-19 is that working from home was not really that popular for many reasons. Now it has become the new norm, with the increase in flexibility and work-life balance being a significant advancement in how we work as a society.” 

Q: What about the challenges you have had?

A: “The most challenging thing during COVID-19 was getting our seasonal workforce for Vintage, which is when we harvest our grapes for winemaking. With no international tourists or backpackers and increased border restrictions, it was particularly concerning that we wouldn’t be able to find the 200 or so workers we needed. We managed to do it, but it was difficult.

Additionally, while some people have benefited from working from home, I know some have found it really difficult to separate home and work. The feeling of always being ‘on’ and available, especially during hard lockdown stages when there was nowhere to go, made it quite challenging to know when to switch off and take time out. The isolation and disconnection for some people has also had an impact on mental health. Therefore, we increased our mental health training, additional communications and promoting our Employee Assistance Program for all our people and their families.”

Q: Given Accolade has significant operations in the UK, how has your COVID-19 response differed there than from Australia?

A: “From an office-based employee perspective, nothing really differed; the UK had the same working from home arrangement as Australia. From an operations perspective, we have a bottling plant in Bristol, and there we put a lot of measures in place, such as rapid testing, to ensure the safety of employees and the continued productivity of wine bottling.

Given the UK has had a more severe lockdown than Australia, we have also been focused on reaching out to them letting them know that they have the support of the global teams. In partnership with our leadership team in the UK, there has been an increase in communications and team engagement initiatives through digital platforms to maintain morale.”

Q: What has COVID-19 changed for you permanently?  

A: “Flexible working is something that will stay with us. 6 months ago, we communicated that people could work from home 2 days a week permanently which has been very well received.

It’s going to be interesting to see the impact it has on interstate and international travel, as we have become comfortable with virtual meetings. I also think we will appreciate the ability to go out and enjoy interacting with people. Hand sanitiser will be with us a for a long time as well!”

Q: What’s on your agenda moving forward?

A: “As a wine company, we want to continue to be the best at what we do: making amazing wine accessible to wine lovers all around the world. We do this by consistently looking at ways to innovate and improve every step of the wine making process with some of the best talent around the world. Accolade Wine wants to keep and attract world-class people by becoming the best place to work. We are actively talking to our employees about how we are going and how we can improve. Importantly, we are always responding to this feedback with new programs and communications.

We launched a new intranet site late last year, so our people can digest and share content, and send us feedback. We’re constantly trying to check-in and continue to get a great proposition for people who want to work for us. It’s a journey we’re on and we’re putting lots of initiatives in place to achieve that culture.

We have focused on leadership and our performance cycle, ensuring quality monthly one-on-ones, giving good feedback, setting clear goals, conducting talent assessments, doing calibrations, and completing engagement surveys are all very important.

We are also in a growth stage, so we are positioning the company and talent around a growth agenda. We are recruiting with an eye on the future and making sure people connect to the opportunity to be part of this growth.”

 

 

The Yellow Folder team would like to thank Anjanette very much for her insights, and wish Accolade Wines much continued success.