Delivering in a time of crisis

Be flexible! Lynsey Aston, Hermes’s Head of Strategic Development, on why it’s important to adapt.

The pandemic has affected so many aspects of our lives, at home and at work. Even as restrictions ease, many people’s main place of work is their home, and this may well be the case for the foreseeable.

How all this will change office life, or the urban working landscape of city centres is another story. But how will the events of this turbulent year affect creativity and innovation? How do we strive and continue to be bold? For me, it’s a matter of how we adapt, how we turn challenges into opportunities – and, ultimately, opportunities into successes.

From the start of the pandemic there was much talk from politicians and the media about getting used to ‘the new normal’. The trouble is, that concept seems to change on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, especially as we now enter what can only be described as ‘the new, new normal’. First shops opened, then bars and hairdressers; social distancing dropped from 2m to 1; and now our leaving-the-house routine has a new element. (Keys? Check. Cash and phone? Check. Facemask? Er, check.)

It’s seemed like a ridiculously long year and it’s still only summer. But in a short space of time – mere months in the grand scheme of things – people have adapted in ways they could never have predicted or planned for. Many of us have discovered an innate ability to change in the midst of a terrible and terrifying situation. That is a silver lining. It’s heartening and empowering.

It’s been happening a lot over the last few months, across all walks of life. An army of home bakers has (self-)risen to the challenge to produce a mountain of banana bread and lemon drizzle; part-time joggers and Sunday cyclists have taken their efforts to Olympian levels; lifestyle journos have penned lockdown fashion features (‘What not to wear for your Zoom meetings’); and our once-famous nation of shopkeepers has – rather lucratively – become a nation of online supermarkets. Meanwhile, video conferencing has gone way beyond the stuffy boardroom to take in birthdays, pub quizzes, live performances (hey, if it’s good enough for The Rolling Stones…), weddings and even funeral services.

This might be a bit random, but bear with me. What unites all the above is that the means were already there – those loaf tins gathering dust at the bottom of the kitchen cupboard, that Lycra festering at the back of the wardrobe – but people have harnessed pre-existing technology in bold, creative ways to create something fresh. Yes, video calls were already a thing, but apps like Teams, Zoom and Hangouts have become ubiquitous. At the end of 2019, Zoom had 10m daily users; in March this year, as the lockdown began to bite, that figure passed the 200m mark. Unsurprising given that a lot of us weren’t able to see friends, family and colleagues in person for months.

So, it’s all about adapting – which is what we’ve done at Hermes.

You’ll know our ParcelShops and Lockers, our fleet of bright blue vehicles, the couriers who have tirelessly helped keep the nation running during lockdown as the public continues to shop online like never before. You may also have seen the recent news that we’re creating more than 10,000 new jobs to support the phenomenal rise in online shopping at a time when other areas of the economy and jobs market are causing many people to struggle.

However, you may not be aware that Hermes is primarily a digital business. Creative and innovative tech underpins all that we do, so even though we weren’t fully ready for the pandemic – let’s face it, no one was – we were in many ways at least prepared and ready to act.

For example, thanks to Hermes’s heavy investment in tech, we made the transition from WTF? to WFH fairly smoothly, as the business sourced around 700 laptops to enable people to work from home. On that note, I do miss physical interaction and impromptu chats by the coffee machine – the ingredients of healthy office life. And there’s a certain creative spark produced by group sessions that can’t quite be replicated via slightly glitchy Teams meetings. But there’s a lot we’re doing that works well, and we’ve struck a balance between keeping in contact with colleagues and ensuring we all have the space to work creatively independently.

Nothing great is achieved without an element of risk. Launching anything in the middle of a brutal global pandemic is brave, but my team and I have fast-tracked to the market a range of products and services. Perhaps our key proposition is the mobile app and its continuously evolving MyPlaces feature, which gives customers greater choice over delivery options – with a variety of contact-free solutions now the default to ensure the safety of our clients and couriers.

It’s a great example of how we’ve been bold and acted quickly to adapt our offering to make it work, both for customers and the business. And it’s working well on both scores. Customers who have set delivery preferences via MyPlaces have experienced a 5% increase in first-time delivery success, and there have been 1.5m new app downloads since March, higher retention rates and an increase in revenue.

As we continue to adapt to what will hopefully soon be a post-pandemic world, and develop, trial and push more industry-leading products on to the market, we’re seeing strong results within the business, too, in terms of our people. The ways in which Covid-19 has changed how we work have ultimately seen a strengthening of relationships across teams. Some of us have been in a bizarre situation where we’ve seen more of each other than our families. But thankfully, restrictions are easing – our creation of thousands of new jobs is a striking reminder of that. And we’ll be ready for the next ‘new, new normal’ – whatever that will look like…