COVID-19: Accepting ambiguity and quick decision making

Man sitting at desk
Callum Baxter-Walters

“Regard your soldiers as your children and they will follow you into the deepest valleys.”

These are the words of Sun Tzu from his book The Art of War. It’s a statement that Callum Baxter-Walters, an Employee Relations Principal for BHP Billiton, believes is reflective of a new way of working and living in a COVID-19 world.

“The biggest thing I have learnt thus far is to take care of yourself and your team mates first, both physically and mentally, and you will maintain your energy and effectiveness in your work,” he said.

“I have also learnt to take comfort in the ambiguity and ever-changing nature of the world and workplace.”

COVID-19 brought with it the need to adapt at a rapid pace, which for a large organisation such as BHP is incredibly complex. Luckily for them, they already had solid foundations for flexible work arrangements in place, allowing them to maintain a level of normalcy in which they can continue to operate.

“The current situation has reinforced that flex-work and dynamic working arrangements are the next revolution in workplace culture,” said Mr Baxter-Walters.

He has found working from home to be both positive, with reduced commute times and more time with family, but also really challenging – being so isolated from those he typically works closely with.

“As a mitigation strategy we have changed how we conduct our routine team meetings from being a Zoom meeting to being a “walking/running” meeting; to encourage the team to get out and get active to maintain their health.”

“The added benefit of being flexible with working hours to allow for home schooling/ school pickups, is it also maintains motivation from the team,” he said.

The aspect of change Mr Baxter-Walters has found most interesting in it all is the almost overnight acceptance of ambiguity and quick decision making, without the liberty of comprehensive data.

“Making decisions with little information is difficult at the best of times. Within my role it is often complex, dealing with trade unions and workforces, trying to manage expectations and emotions that often run high in uncertain times. Getting comfortable with ever changing decisions takes some getting used to.”

“For myself in Employee Relations (a sub-function of Human Resources) this situation has brought its challenges in which we have looked to break new ground in how we work with the broader business and ensure that our employees are kept up to date with the latest information.”

Mr Baxter-Walters says that if he had one call to action it would be for everyone to keep discussing their mental health while they are staying at home.

“It is OK to not be OK, we are all in this together.”