Planning in a Pandemic

Published by Lisa Basford on

Can you predict the future? Image Jonathan Sebastiao on unsplash

This has been a year like no other and predictions for the future are almost impossible. With businesses in turmoil, and no crystal ball, how can leaders plan for the future? This week, Good Endeavours is speaking to Rob McCann, Senior Sustainability Manager at Virgin Media and member of the ICRS,  to get his perspectives and to learn how Virgin Media juggled multiple commitments and many stakeholders to develop their new sustainability strategy.

Q. You’ve recently released your Impact Report. How do you feel?

In July we published our 2019 Impact Report which closed out our five year sustainability strategy. We achieved four of our five big goals and so this was an opportunity to celebrate, engage and gear everyone up for what’s coming next. We’re really proud of our achievements, such as our partnership with Scope to transform the lives of disabled people and reducing our emissions by more than 40%. In these unusual times, we had to decide on the timing and tone of the report. We wanted to take an innovative approach to the reporting process (something we’re known for) and we wanted to share our learning with peers so they could benefit from our experience.

Q. What role can the telecommunications industry play in helping the nation during the crisis?

As soon as the pandemic hit it quickly became clear how crucial connectivity is to everyone. Building connections that really matter is our purpose – that has never felt more important than now. Telecommunications companies have seen huge demand for their services during this period. This includes providing the connectivity to enable millions of people to work from home which has proven the business case for a more flexible working approach, to keeping children entertained with great TV content while parents balance parenting and working at the same time (talking from experience with this one!)

Q. Tell us how the business adapted during the crisis

Virgin Media, as many businesses have done, stepped up to support the public and third sectors, our people and our customers. We used our core capabilities to act quickly:

  • Prioritising NHS and critical services customers. Providing them with additional bandwidth and availability as needed, rolling out free or low-cost solutions to help set up remote working and extra mobile data and minutes for NHS staff and patients
  • Giving free minutes and extra data for 2.7 million of our mobile customers – to help with all those zoom calls with family and friends
  • Providing free extra TV channels to millions of customers
  • Removing data caps on any broadband plans that still had them
  • Giving customers more flexibility over their services such as the ability to temporarily pause sports subscriptions when live events were suspended.

Q.  As an employee, what has impressed you the most?

I’ve been incredibly impressed by how the company has communicated and supported staff through the whole period. From regular, clear communications on new policies and processes, to lots of engaging content and opportunities to connect virtually with colleagues. ‘Team play’ is a big mantra at Virgin Media, and this has been at the heart of our approach during the pandemic. It’s also been recognised that this is an incredibly challenging time for many employees, and recently the company made the mental wellbeing app, Unmind, available to all of our people. This period has seen record levels of employee satisfaction, which is testament to the work of many teams to ensure our people feel valued, engaged, and informed during this incredibly difficult time.

Q. Looking ahead to the future, how are you developing your plans for the next five years?

Earlier this year we carried out a materiality assessment with input from thousands of colleagues and customers. It has been fascinating to develop a strategy in this way. We’ve not had a single in-person workshop. We’re in the process of finalising the strategy, so watch this space!

Q. Reflecting on the pandemic, how has this influenced you as you develop the new strategy?

Now more than ever it’s important that organisations like Virgin Media, which have a presence in communities across the UK, use their reach to create positive social impact. This was already in our minds before, but the pandemic has made it clear that community has to be at the heart of our new long-term strategy.

“As sustainability professionals we have the opportunity to support the immediate response and create the pathway for a better recovery. This is something I will be focussing my efforts on over the coming months.”

Q. Unlike other organisations, you make a point of sharing your learnings – even when things didn’t go so well?

We hope that our learnings can play a small role in supporting our peers as they develop their own strategies, respond to new challenges, and push their own organisations to be bold and ambitious.

Q. What are your predictions for the future?

This year has given me an incredible opportunity to observe elements of what a less environmentally impactful society could look like. While traffic, flights and manufacturing begin to ramp back up, I hope that some of the behavioural changes (such as the reported reduction in food waste as homes make the most of their less frequent food shops) will last.

What is likely to last is a permanent move to flexible working arrangements for millions of people across the UK. Not just working from home, but the recognition that many jobs should be measured on impact. This unprecedented situation has proved the business case.

Mass working from home presents a challenge to employers to maintain team play and support physical and mental health. But if done right, we know it will provide huge benefits. From reduced emissions (so long as reduced vehicle emissions out-weighs increase in power use and heating in the home!) and improved air quality to increased productivity, more time for family and exercise and enabling more inclusive recruitment.

Planning Ahead….

Virgin Media provides a great example of how a purpose-led business plans for a more sustainable future.

Are you an organisation brimming with good ideas but struggling to articulate this in a coherent plan? Here are our tips for developing your Responsible Business strategy

  1. Know your purpose. And commit to it.

It should be your North star. A clearly articulated purpose will engage everyone across the business, as well as investors and customers. It must be more than a statement in the Annual Report – all other business strategies should ladder up to it, and all parts of the organisation can contribute to delivering it.

  • Focus. Focus. Focus.

Set clear objectives which the team can focus on and be accountable for. Virgin Media set five very clear and memorable objectives in their 2015-2020 plan.

  • Engage employees.

Success is delivered by the WHOLE organisation, not just the CR Team so it’s vital to engage, educate and inspire employees from the get-go. Virgin Media have a small CR Team but they have taken the time to engage with all functions of the business. That way everyone feels involved and knows their individual contribution is important.

  • Be authentic.

Sustainability is core to the business, not an add on. Think about the tone and style of your sustainability communications, capture hearts and minds, and talk in a way that is true to your brand. Speak with compassion and be authentic. We love Virgin Media’s style and narrative.

  • Be open about your performance.

We’ve written a few Responsible Business Reports in our time and we’ve read a whole lot more. It’s important to share the whole story and to take the time to reflect on what is (and is not) working. Virgin Media demonstrate leadership by sharing their reflections with other businesses.

  • Recognise your core skills – and choose partnerships to complement them.

How can you make the biggest difference? Consider where you already have skills within your business and make these go further. Virgin Media – as a leader in telecoms – did so by helping the nation to be better connected. Look for aligned partners to support your goals and to supplement your skills.


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