A lot has been learned


Virtual training sessions, digital work environments, safe management of the pandemic: employees at SGL Carbon have had to improvise during the corona crisis and come up with new approaches. Five of them tell us what they have learned and explore the long-term effects of the crisis.

"Virtual learning will become firmly established"

"The corona pandemic has shown me and our team how important it is to constantly rethink things to keep pace with our changing world – especially regarding the continuous professional development of our employees. As part of the Global Talent Management team I’m responsible for global training initiatives, and virtual training sessions have become increasingly important for us over recent years. They already played a major role before corona, but the pandemic has added even greater momentum to digital transformation. As a result of lockdown, employees could see the advantages of virtual training methods – and interest in them grew sharply.

So that’s why we went ahead and took this opportunity to promote a range of multilingual training courses on the intranet, which was very well received. As our IT capacities were already stretched, we had to find solutions to ensure the content was consistently available in high quality. We also involved both the works council and our data protection officer from the start, and together with their support, we managed to launch the training offering at short notice.

I believe the corona pandemic will result in virtual learning becoming firmly established as a training format, enabling us to provide courses for our colleagues which are flexible, both in terms of time and location. On demand access to content means individuals can decide when and for how long they wish to learn: at their own pace and without incurring travel expenses. In line with this trend, we are currently working on a new Learning Management System (LMS), which will further extend our online portfolio."

Deborah Plum, Senior Manager Global Talent Management

Phone: +49 611 6029-393
Email: Deborah.Plum@sglcarbon.com

"That period had something magical about it"

"My team and I are responsible for the digital workplace at SGL Carbon. We ensure that all our colleagues have the ideal conditions to best complete their tasks and collaborate in teams. Our focus over recent years has been on cloud applications, so that all colleagues always have access to the latest version of documents no matter where they are and can communicate with each other via their computers.

From one day to the next, we were confronted with a whole new set of requirements at the start of the corona crisis. Many began working from home. Teams that were still sitting together the day before were suddenly split apart. Our sales team could no longer visit their customers. It became extremely important for us to make best use of the full corporate potential of the digital workplace and its digital communication tools. Our IT department coped with this new situation by introducing video tutorials and providing pragmatic and fast advice.

We also had to come up with rapid solutions to totally new challenges: how can I print or add my digital signature to a document from home?  How can PCs be equipped for teleworking? And – practically overnight – the IT infrastructure team substantially increased the bandwidth of our lines to enable remote access for large numbers of colleagues. That period had something magical about it: like creating a sevenfold increase in capacity without receiving a single additional euro.

It helped us make massive advances. The crisis clearly shows that we all must leave our comfort zone from time to time. Each of us will have to invest more effort in profitably exploiting the opportunities offered by digitization, both for ourselves and for our companies. And we will always have to figure out how we want to organize our work – including what is the smartest approach for SGL Carbon."

Markus Zerbach, Head of Competence Center Workplace of SGL Carbon

Phone: +49 611 6029 331
Email: Markus.Zerbach@sglcarbon.com

"We were able to respond in an organized manner"

“As an EHS manager, I am part of the SGL Carbon pandemic emergency team in China. I obtain information about the corona pandemic from a wide variety of sources, prepare it and thus assist our management. I also take care with my team that we have enough protective equipment in our offices and production halls.

Our extensive information network has paid off in the corona pandemic. We anticipated the risk two weeks before the widespread outbreak of the pandemic in China. This gave us the necessary lead to prepare for the outbreak and to be able to run through various scenarios. When the pandemic rolled through the country, we did not panic, but were able to respond in an organized manner.

When it comes to crisis management, we are not only put to the test, we also learn a lot about how important it is to make quick decisions, implement the measures accordingly, and above all rely on bottom-up communication. When it started, our on-site emergency team created, among other things, a chat group in which we were able to exchange information about current developments and our countermeasures in real time. Compared to emails, this allowed us to respond quickly, short lead times and full transparency. At the same time, we were in permanent contact with the global crisis team and have constantly exchanged views on the guidelines and measures. Both have proven to be quite valuable and will certainly continue to play an important role until the end of the pandemic.

Such unconventional ways are indispensable, especially in times of crisis. It is said that many roads lead to Rome. That's right, but we should always consider which one is the shortest, fastest, cheapest and most suitable for the company. Thinking around the corner is therefore not an end in itself but a rather helpful tool to find this way.

Lino Long, Environment, Health und Safety (EHS) Manager in Shanghai

Phone: +86 21 6097-6855
Email: lino.long@sglcarbon.com

"Some things can also be discussed digitally quickly"

"In production in particular, there are always situations in which we can no longer get on with the previous processes. Then we have to question our previous work. That takes strength, but the good thing about it is that every time we learn something new and improve.

It is the same in the corona pandemic at our Precursor plant in Lavradio near Lisbon and in many other SGL plants worldwide. I work as an operational excellence manager in Lavradio and make sure that production runs smoothly on site. One of our most important tools for shop floor management is the SGL-wide Operations Management System, in which we also rely on Gemba walks: Managers and managers at all levels go through production on site and analyze where processes are improved and how existing inefficiencies are optimized can be.

The idea that all relevant local people go through the factory is of course obsolete due to the pandemic's contact restrictions everywhere. However, because the daily meeting while going through production provides us with important information, we quickly decided to meet virtually every day and set up a digital dashboard with the most important KPIs from production. In this way, we can always stay in contact even during the contact restrictions and keep an overview of the processes in the plant, which means we can also exchange information with the other locations much better.

Of course, the Gemba Walks method is essentially based on the personal meeting on site, because we can also involve the shift supervisors and workers well. It will remain that way in the future. The pandemic, however, has taught us that some things can also be captured digitally and discussed quickly. We will benefit from this in the future and improve our system further."

Eduardo Caeiro, Operational Excellence Manager in Lavradio, Portugal 

Phone: +351 21 206 62 37
Email: eduardo.caeiro@sglcarbon.com

"Especially in times of crisis we need to consolidate customer partnerships"

"Together with my team, I work on further developing the commercial processes in the Graphite Materials & Systems (GMS) business unit, always aiming to enhance our efficiency and make us become more attractive to our customers. In addition, we are responsible for our global knowledge management, digitization of the customer journey as well as for Social Selling coordinating these activities across all product segments of GMS and acting as a central hub into the company.

Especially in times of crisis we need to consolidate customer partnerships to give both sides planning security – both in terms of delivery reliability and in relation to the earliest possible transparency regarding project delays. Fast, reliable and sympathetic dealing with delivery changes and cancellations is and will remain particularly important to customers. We have therefore, among other things, rapidly converted our internal procedures to accelerate them, which has increased trust among customers.

It was very clear to us from the start that close proximity to our customers would be vital, especially at such a difficult time. Nowadays, the solution to this is digital – in addition to adapted crisis procedures, we have conducted numerous personal sales calls via video conferencing.

We have learned one thing from all of this: it's nearly always better to start a new form of collaboration quickly and then optimise it, rather than optimise a process or a system down to the last detail before you even start using it. That makes things faster and better integrates your partners. In general, it’s always valuable to regularly deviate from your own mindset and observe things from a customer's perspective. That gets you ahead in normal times and gives you clear oversight to overcome any difficulties during crises."

Dirk Schneider, Director Marketing & Sales Excellence GMS

Phone: +49 228 841-343
Email: dirk.schneider@sglcarbon.com

Bilder: Marina Weigl, Inês Costa Monteiro, SGL Carbon
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