EAME ESG takes strategic approach to the COVID-19 response
“As the pandemic emerged, we gathered together 30 senior managers and subject matter experts from across the EAME region to respond to the growing crisis,” says Rupert. “Our primary purpose was to safeguard the wellbeing of our employees and contractors, whether they worked from home or continued to continue to work at our facilities. Our remit covered three continents, 39 countries and over 28,000 people. The ESG team numbers were determined not only by the roles that needed to be fulfilled, but also to have back-ups should any of us fall ill with the virus.
“Early on, our first considerations were how to prevent the spread of the disease at our facilities. In each country, we mapped the various scenarios, looking at a range of factors including; infection rates, medical infrastructure and the working environments. Then we identified the high impact, high probability worst-case scenarios. The group initially focused on these scenarios, determining how ExxonMobil could mitigate to reduce the probability of occurrence in order to keep people healthy and safe. Also in the forefront of our minds was the need to be able to maintain operations, as ExxonMobil is a critical business in the countries in which we operate.”
A number of employees from the UK joined the EAME emergency support group, which initially met twice per week. The group also held weekly meeting with the lead managers for each country to give them support and keep them updated as the pandemic unfolded. For example, in the early days the team also worked closely with lead country managers and Procurement to ensure there was enough personal protection equipment (PPE) for personnel.
The EAME ESG group still meets regularly online, but one year on it has scaled down its activities as the pandemic has played out and people have adjusted to new ways of working. When asked what the greatest challenge has been over the past year, Rupert’s response was unsurprising.
“Essentially, we have been living and operating in the middle of an extraordinary global medical and sociological experiment,” he says. “The hardest thing has been trying to anticipate the unknown. Things appear to become clear, but then change as new evidence becomes available. You think you know the truth at one point, and then it metamorphoses into a new one and you have to adapt your mitigation accordingly.”
He also says that as in any crisis, effective communication has been key – and not just between ESG members, but also across the business at all levels, including the Houston team who were coordinating things with other regions. “We have had to be especially disciplined about information,” says Rupert, “because there has been so much misinformation, disinformation, rumour and speculation about the pandemic.”
Reflecting on his experiences, Rupert feels the team has met the COVID-19 challenge head-on. “Collectively, the ESG team members have significant strategic decision-making experience as well as expertise in areas such as industrial hygiene, HR and emergency preparedness and response,” he says.
And as Rupert himself prepares to move on from working at ExxonMobil, he feels he leaves with things in very safe hands.