Case Study

How Kellogg’s virtually included staff in the UK amid the pandemic

The cereal brand’s Vice President HR, Kellogg Europe shares top ways they’re ensuring that tech-enabled work doesn’t hit the inclusion agenda...

Words by Sophie Parrott

The world of work quickly pivoted to become largely digital-first when the pandemic hit and Government-enforced homeworking came into force. While the pandemic did raise some challenges for HR regarding the health and wellbeing of employees (among other things), it was also the catalyst for changes to the way that employers and employees think about work. And this has resulted in many employers allowing staff to work permanently from home, with others pivoting to a hybrid model of work – giving staff the ability to flex between working from the office and home. Statistics back this up. For example, the BBC quizzed 50 of the UK’s biggest employers and 43 of the firms said that they would embrace a mix of office and homeworking. There is also an appetite among staff to have greater flexibility over when and where they work as separate data has pointed towards. A CBRE survey found that around 85% of employees would like to work remotely at least two to three days per week post-pandemic, with the remaining portion of the week spent in the office. In order for this full-time move away from the office to work, and for businesses to keep ticking over, technology has, and will continue to play, a pivotal role in keeping remote colleagues connected.

Guided by our principles, we knew we had to 'meet people where they were at'

While remote and hybrid working offers staff greater flexibility – which can have follow-on benefits for productivity, morale and engagement – it can pose additional challenges for HR, particularly around the D&I agenda. Statistics have pointed to how remote working might cut certain people out of work. For example, a 1,000-strong employee survey by Business Electricity Prices – as was reported on by CEO Review – found that 53% of remote workers are worried about being left out of in-person meetings, and other office-based activities. In addition to this, the data found that over one-third of homeworkers have expressed fears about being overlooked for promotions and pay rise opportunities in favour of those who work in the office. Despite this, the D&I agenda – whether in-office or virtually – remains a core part of HR’s remit and the function is savvy to the idea that a diversity of thought breeds increased output, enhanced employer brand, and a better comprehension of the customer. This dovetails with research from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which previously found that companies boasting greater diversity among senior teams enjoy revenues that are up to 19% higher than their competitors.


Arrived in the UK in 1922

Head Office: MediaCity UK, Manchester

Staff headcount in the UK: approx. 1,500

Head of UK and Irish business: Chris Silcock

Kellogg’s Manchester factory is Europe’s largest cereal factory

One firm that has recognised the importance of D&I – and has focused on virtual inclusion in the pandemic – is the cereal brand Kellogg’s. In an exclusive interview, myGrapevine magazine spoke to Sam Thomas-Berry, Vice President HR, Kellogg Europe – the brand which has Cocopops, Cornflakes, and CrunchyNut within its portfolio – to find out more about how the firm kept UK staff virtually included throughout the coronavirus crisis. The cereal brand’s HR lead explained that the organisation wanted to ensure that the progress they had made to date regarding diversity, inclusion and equity wasn’t hampered by everything going on – undoubtedly which tech played a huge role in maintaining during this period of digital-first working. Thomas-Berry said: “I’m proud to say that looking back, I feel we prioritised ED&I more than ever before – we hosted panels and training, we ran workshops and we entered awards. The last year has shown us that everything is possible – we have created so much momentum through the hard work and commitment of the BERGs and all of our allies,” Thomas-Berry added.

I’m proud to say that looking back, I feel we prioritised ED&I more than ever before

Virtual inclusion at Kellogg’s in the UK

With the pandemic proving to be a tough period of time for lots of people, Thomas-Berry said that the business had to quickly adapt to ensure that all office-based staff felt connected and supported when working from home. She explained: “As an organisation, pre-COVID we were already hugely committed to flexible and agile working but the pandemic encouraged us to go further. Guided by our principles, we knew we had to ‘meet people where they were at’.” With many office-based staff being moved to homeworking, tech played a vital role in keeping staff connected and also allowed HR to continue usual areas of its remit – such as workplace inclusion – but just in a virtual fashion.

As such, Thomas-Berry shed light on several ways that the cereal brand went about including staff virtually throughout the pandemic. One of these relates to the firm’s Summer Hours Policy which as Thomas-Berry explained, was adapted to cater to employee needs when working from home. She added: “In light of everyone working remotely, we adapted our Summer Hours Policy which usually gives employees the option to finish at 12pm on a Friday from May to September, to give the option for employees to finish early on any day, or take a morning off – whatever suited them.”

Aside from this – and due to the increased reliance on tech – workers in a general sense have increasingly felt that they have needed time away from their screens. This is supported by data from Robert Half, which found that 44% of workers say that they have experienced video call fatigue since the start of the pandemic. Kellogg’s in the UK recognised that staff needed a break away from their screens and deployed initiatives to help after listening to the needs of employees. Thomas-Berry said: “We acknowledged that people really needed that break away from their screens, so we listened and introduced ‘meeting-free’ Friday afternoons. This really allows our people to have a part of the week to plan, strategise, create and think as they shift gear into the weekend.” An article from Community Business found that ‘active listening can fuel inclusion’. This is because, as the article explained, when people develop real connections with each other, they can bring their whole selves to work – which points towards a culture of inclusion. In addition to this, part of an OliverWyman article said that “there is a clear link between leaders actively listening to their workforce and successfully creating a culture of inclusion”. 

Sam’s top inclusion tips for virtual working

Keep your camera on

From the outset at Kellogg’s, when some of our teams shifted to working virtually, we really encouraged them to keep their cameras on when joining virtual calls. It sounds simple but this allowed people to better engage with each other, read how people were feeling and really helped to drive connections when we couldn’t be with each other in person.

Encourage informal chats

With the shift to working from home for our office-based teams, one thing we found we lost was those informal chats people would have in the office. We didn’t want colleagues to feel that every call had to be solely about work, so we encouraged people to carve out time in their meetings to catch up and check in with each other. We also drove this from the top down – on weekly team huddles we would make sure we kicked off with an informal chat.

Keep things brief

When you’re working virtually you can’t always see how busy people are or how many meetings they’re going to. Early on we identified people felt they were having more meetings than they did previously, and we were conscious that meant it was hard to carve out time to get work done. We introduced guidance on keeping meetings to 45 minutes where possible, this meant colleagues were able to take 15 minutes between meetings – whether that was to grab a cup of tea, stretch their legs or get back to emails.

What D&I means to Kellogg’s in the UK

As is clear, D&I is an important part of working life at Kellogg’s in the UK. This appears to be underpinned by a belief that having a strong focus on diversity, inclusion and equity is critical to organisational success. Thomas-Berry explained: “At [Kellogg’s] we believe that a strong and ambitious focus on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is paramount to achieving success and this belief goes back to our Founder WK Kellogg who was a pioneer in employing women in the workplace 115 years ago. Today our company purpose is creating a seat at the table for everyone. This runs true throughout our company and our combined efforts have already been recognised by our colleagues, with a recent companywide opinion survey showing continued improvement in our inclusion index.”

Of course, D&I will be a challenge for many firms going forward, especially with remote and digital-first working causing new challenges. Yet, what Kellogg’s in the UK has done during the coronavirus crisis to virtually include staff could be a good example to other employers as they gear up to deal with an uncertain tech-enabled future. “It is our belief that everyone at Kellogg plays a role and is responsible for our inclusive culture where we all have a seat at the table by actively seeking and integrating diverse viewpoints and speaking up and addressing difficult issues. We have created an environment of inclusion where we also ensure our brands and company reflect our consumers’ values,” Thomas-Berry added.

Has remote work made inclusion more complex?

With more companies continuing to work remotely in some form (whether this is permanently or via a hybrid approach), it is possible that remote work has made inclusion more complex.

For example, Business Electricity prices data revealed that more than half (53%) of remote staff are concerned about being left out of in-person meetings, as well as other office-based activities.

In addition to this, in 2020, Evelyn Carter, Director at diversity and inclusion consulting firm Paradigm, told Fortune: “If you are a member of a group that’s marginalised or underrepresented, it’s already hard to be visible. It’s especially exacerbated right now.”

Yet, on the flip side, other data has pointed towards the benefit that digital-first working can have on inclusion.

In fact, data from Glint highlighted that virtual working can create a range of opportunities that can help strengthen the feelings of inclusion among employees.

It also found that staff members at remote work-friendly organisations were 14% more likely to say that they felt safe to speak their minds.

We have created an environment of inclusion where we also ensure our brands and company reflect our consumers’ values

You are currently previewing this article.

This is the last preview available to you for the next 30 days.

To access more news, features, columns and opinions every day, create a free myGrapevine account.