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Office washout

Grant Emanuel, Marketing Director, International for the Chamberlain Group shares insights and key learnings from the group’s close brush with mother nature

Sydney has a reputation for its summer storms, spectacular lightening shows and torrential downpours that can finish as quickly as they start. In the early hours of 28 November 2018, a storm cell rolled over the city that would have a profound impact on the Chamberlain team’s head office in North Ryde.

In just a two-hour period, more than 100mm of rain fell over the city. The deluge proved to be too much for the box guttering system at the Chamberlain building which couldn’t cope with the more than 375,000 litres of water that fell directly on the property during the storm.

The equivalent volume of water in a 25m swimming pool ran directly into the building’s roof cavity resulting in ceiling collapses and extensive water damage throughout the two-story office.

All furnishings, fittings, administrative supplies and technology items in the North Ryde building were not just ruined, they were unsafe. We had to act quickly and jumped into planning mode to protect staff members and advise our suppliers, partners and customers of the situation.

It’s been just over 12 months since the storm hit and with the team now back in our fully renovated office there has been time to reflect on how the near disaster challenged and changed our team for the better.

Clear communication is key 

When the first staff member arrived onsite the severity of the damage was plain to see. Clear policies about who to contact in an emergency ensured that the executive team were notified and within minutes a decision was made to advise all staff members to remain at home for the day.

An emergency headquarters was set up at a pre-planned location and from here daily communications sent via email were received by all staff members to help them understand what was required of them and who they could contact if they needed support.

The same applied to our network of partners and suppliers who received phone calls, emails and face-to-face visits to keep them across operational updates.

Within 72 hours, the 40 plus member Chamberlain team were back up and running in a temporary office and for partners and suppliers the phrase ‘business as usual’ rang true.

Plan to be flexible

As a group, we had a basic disaster recovery action plan ready to follow, but this needed to be viewed as a guide only.

As each day unfolded, new challenges and priorities would emerge and we needed to be ready to respond to them.

This also meant having a flexible outlook and attitude among all staff members. An organisation-wide mindset of ‘how can I help’ was required and our team well and truly rose the occasion.

Culture connection

One of the terrific outcomes of the challenge our office faced was that it reinforced the best elements of our culture as a company and allowed us to work even better together.

The two months spent in the temporary open plan office broke us out of our normal ways of working, encouraged cross-collaboration and provided an opportunity for team members to learn more about their colleagues and the role they play within the business.

Throughout the office there is a real sense of achievement from the team over the way we all came together and ensured that the business could continue to provide the level of service expected by our customers, suppliers and partners.

The storm and time in our temporary office is now a memory we all share as a team, and we are richer for having worked together to overcome so many challenges and to learn to be more adaptive!
We’re looking forward to the challenges that 2020 brings – hopefully without the challenge of a weather crisis!