05 | People, culture and values

Flexible work arrangements and working from home

Covid-19 has accelerated the movement towards increased flexibility in work arrangements. Hafnia recognises that better work-life balance can improve employee motivation, performance and productivity while reducing stress. Along with flexible work arrangements, Hafnia also provides guidance to its employees on how to benefit and utilise such arrangements effectively.

During 2020, the percentage of employees working from home was extremely high due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. We hope that we will return to a more familiar working routine in the second half of 2021, in order to enhance collaboration and continue building a strong company culture.


Working at Hafnia, at home

We interviewed Mette Gandrup (General Manager and Head of Operations in Houston), Fausto Braschi (Senior Manager, Chartering in Copenhagen) and Emelia Yusope (Assistant Manager, Bunkers in Singapore), about their working lives and what it’s been like to work from home.


What are the greatest advantages of working at Hafnia?

Mette Gandrup: The most significant advantage of working at Hafnia is that it feels like a family, everyone is accessible, and everyone always takes time to help or talk.

Fausto Braschi: I agree, at Hafnia you are always surrounded by people with shared values. We work towards the same goal, and are always willing to support each other. We have a common ground. I love my job. I think it is the best job in the world.

Emelia Yusope: The best thing is colleagues. Everyone is very welcoming, and it is easy to discuss something if you have any issues.


What is the downside of working in shipping?

Mette Gandrup: It can be difficult to find a balance between private life and work. We spend a lot of hours working. It is a lifestyle choice.

Fausto Braschi: It can be challenging to make people around you to understand the long working hours. People outside shipping have a hard time understanding the demanding hours, and that we are available on the phone 24/7.

Emelia Yusope: Shipping never really stops. The plans you made can change in a second due to unforeseen circumstances.


How did Covid-19 affect your life at work and at home?

Emelia Yusope: When I started with Hafnia, the safe management practices were in place at work. However, despite the reduction in face-to-face interactions with colleagues, the onboarding went well.

Fausto Braschi: As a company and team we managed very well under the pandemic. Working from home is challenging and I really miss being in the office. However, I think I would enjoy working from home for one day per week, and look forward to similar forms of flexible working hours once we return. The communication and handling of Covid-19 from Hafnia’s side has been excellent.

Mette Gandrup: Now everyone has a proper work station at home, which is great. I think the pandemic has opened a lot of people’s eyes to the benefits of working from home.


What have you learned personally and professionally during Covid-19?

Emelia: Obviously working from home was relatively uncommon prior to the pandemic, but I have found it relatively easy to adapt to. Moving forward, I believe a healthy balance between working from home and in the office can boost productivity whilst improving work-life balance.

Mette Gandrup: I have gained some clarity on how to juggle life. It has been a gift to have more time with my son and husband. I have a lot of new tools in my toolbox.

Fausto Braschi: I feel much more confident in my ability to juggle personal life and work.


How does your family cope with your choice of career?

Fausto Braschi: I’d say they cope pretty well, but I suppose you’d have to ask them! They understand that things change a lot. My wife has told me several times how happy I look every day when I return home from the office.

Emelia Yusope: My family was excited when I joined Hafnia, and I have to say that I am very happy to have joined.

Mette Gandrup: My husband also tells me I look happy when I return from the office. My husband is also in shipping, making it easier for him to understand the demands of the business.

Life at Sea during Covid-19 – A glimpse into the impact on seafarers and their families

This year was very difficult for seafarers around the world. The crew change crisis has not only made life difficult for those at sea, but also their families, from whom they have been temporarily separated.

We had the privilege of interviewing Captain Somen Roy, who was delayed on board BW Columbia during his last assignment due to Covid-19. He went on board on 21 January 2020 for three months and ended up on board until 30 July, staying there for six months and ten days.

Captain Roy started with us as a trainee (cadet) in September 2000, progressed to the rank of Master and took over his first command in January 2016. He has been with us for more than 20 years now.


Tell us a little about yourself

About 20 years ago, I graduated from Glasgow College when Worldwide Shipping came to campus to interview potential crew members. Six candidates were selected, and fortunately, I was one of them! The final interview was done by Andreas Sohmen-Pao, who, I believe, joined the company that year. This was in the year 2000, so we were introduced to the company as “Y2K” cadets. My initial cadetship was on product tankers and VLCCs. Fast forward 16 years and I was promoted to Master on 1 January 2016.


What are the greatest advantages of being a seafarer?

I love the sea! I would say that I was born for the sea. I’m definitely not office material! The experience over the past 20 years has been unparalleled. The safety culture here is so superior to other companies. We often have to train other people up when they come from different companies.


What is one downside?

The only thing I don’t like is that you can’t get a helicopter in the middle of the sea in the event of an emergency. If you’re in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, there is no help. This can be challenging because there are times in life when your family needs you, and you may not be able to be there for them. However, I know first-hand that the company will do all it can to get you to them if the possibility exists. A few years ago, my wife and son were on vacation in Dubai while I was at sea. My son got appendicitis and was rushed to the hospital for immediate surgery. I was on BW Thames sailing to Sikka. To my good luck, the shore team arranged for a captain to replace me. I did not tell my wife I was coming. I was able to sign off and take a direct flight to Dubai, arriving just as my son got out of surgery. I stayed with him for his recovery and flew back with them to India. Upon arrival in India, my parents met us, and I flew back to the ship! I am very grateful that I was able to be there for them.


What could Hafnia do better for our seafarers?

The crew welfare is pretty great, especially in response to Covid-19 – daily updates, increased data access, improved healthcare have been very helpful for all of us. One area where we could improve is the frequency of training courses for officers, both junior and senior. We used to have more regular leadership development training in Mumbai, Singapore and Manila. I found this played a significant role in grooming people effectively. The hard skills are exceptional across the fleet, but we can always benefit from more attention towards improving our soft skills. Like our safety culture, these soft skills should be unconsciously incorporated into our decision-making.


How did Covid-19 affect your life at sea and ashore?

It was initially very difficult, mostly because the ports didn’t know how to handle the situation. Even when they had guidance, it took them a while to follow it. I don’t think people realised how serious the situation was for a while. When I signed onto BW Columbia in the middle of January 2020, I had no idea what Covid-19 was. Nobody was wearing masks.

Fortunately, my wife was able to be with her sister and parents during the lockdown in India. This made my being stuck at sea a lot easier on me. It was still difficult, though. One of my bosuns had kidney issues and needed to get off. Everybody tried (office, manning, etc.), but borders were closed. We needed to go to Djibouti because no one else would accept us. I don’t blame the other countries, because they didn’t understand the situation at that time. The guys on board were among the safest in the world, but their presence there was taken for granted. The medical conditions should have granted them special permissions. It’s not like you’re just asking to get off the ship just because you want to. You need to get off the ship!


How did you handle crew complaints and concerns? What were common thoughts?

One word: depression. If someone was finishing nine months in January, then extended to August – that’s 17 months! That’s really challenging. Junior and senior officers were more manageable because their contracts are shorter and they were privy to more information that helped them understand the situation. Keeping information flow open was vital. Depression sets in when you’re scared for your life and thinking about your family. The easiest way to prevent this was to keep the crew engaged. It was essential not to let people be alone with their thoughts for too long.
The Hafnia wellness program was also quite helpful to us. The beginning of the pandemic was hard period. But once everyone realised the new normal, they saw the need to take care of their wellness. Our ship followed the program, and everyone was receptive as most people found it helpful.

Swapnil Roy, Wife of Captain Roy

We also had the privilege of speaking with Swapnil, Captain Roy’s wife, about her experience being the spouse of a seafarer and how their family was impacted by covid-19 and the crew change crisis.


Tell us a little about yourself

I’m a mechanical engineer and did an MBA. After having children, I quit my job to be a full-time mother.

I was school friends with Somen. I knew him for 15 years before getting married. He got into his merchant navy college, then went to Glasgow. We have been married for 14 years now.


What is it like to be married to a seafarer?

We’re both very positive people. We enjoy our freedom and time together when we can. I married him knowing he was in this profession. I like being independent, so it’s okay for me, but the kids do miss him a lot. After 2-3 months, they start asking “When will Papa come?” I have to appease them by saying that we’ll do X, Y and Z when Papa comes back.

I’ve sailed with him 4-5 times. My experience was great each time. The first time there were three other families there. We became excellent friends and visited ports that were great to disembark at and explore. Since having kids, I’ve sailed only once. I wanted the kids to see where and what their father is doing all the time. It was definitely a good experience for them to know more about their father’s work.

For me, it’s a good way of life. For many others, it might not be suitable.


Is it hard to have him away from home for so long?

I’m okay with his career demands. It’s not a new thing. When he stays home for more 3-4 months, it becomes difficult! I tell him, “You’re acting like a captain at home. That is not allowed here. Please go back to sea and be your ship’s captain!”


How did Covid-19 affect you as a family?

I’ve known him since he was a cadet, when he used to sail for much more extended periods. So I knew that’s part of the job. This time, I was aware that many other people’s situations were a lot worse. So that made it easier. Plus, I was lucky to get stuck with my family – I was supposed to be with them for ten days, but that turned into four months. Plus I knew my husband was safe from the virus at sea. That being said, I told him not to blame me if I didn’t recognise him!


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