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Adaptability in a crisis: how Bourne Leisure reacted to lockdown

Guy Mason Guy Mason
Photo credit:

Emma Adams

The UK holiday sector shutdown almost overnight forcing its businesses - large and small - to act fast if they wanted to survive. How has Bourne Leisure faired?

The future of work is once again a business-critical question. COVID-19 has been a pivotal event in reshaping not just where we work, how we work or who we work with, but what works. No team has had a larger hand in this rapid shift than the technology team. Technology leaders therefore now have the responsibility of protecting their businesses and nurturing a different company altogether through the crisis. Their priorities pre-COVID19 were to maintain a productive workforce, a secure system and an agile culture. Have those changed in the weeks since? To understand how these technology leaders are leading in a time of crisis we committed to asking them.


In our first episode of The Future of Work Series, in partnership with Okta, HotTopics.ht interviewed Guy Mason, Bourne Leisure Group’s CIO. He charts the transformation of one of the UK’s most prominent players in the holiday and hospitality industry, as the Group currently holds well-known brands such as Butlins, Warner Leisure Hotels and Haven Holidays in its portfolio.


First, he himself is fine. With a management consultancy background he was an early adopter of remote working. From a “technology point of view and loneliness [point of view], it’s not much of a change,” he reports.


The same can’t be said of his sector — nor of Bourne itself. As the UK and Europe restricted non-essential travel the holiday industry has effectively pressed pause. With severe consequences. For Bourne that has meant staff furloughing and what seems to be a strategic triage of its remaining teams, products and services.


“Our technology team is very familiar with the aspects of remote working – the technology, the mindset – and they’ve exploited technology to up our entire company’s productivity.” Mason said, as he discusses the novel ways of working that is helping his team’s output. “We’ve created in three weeks what would normally have taken 18 months.”


That seems to be a fairly common response from pragmatic business leaders. Organizational adrenaline seems to have kicked in as business priorities are now a literal d0-or-die negotiation, meaning actions have been supercharged through the production wheel. The key here, however, is to make it a sustainable change. That’s otherwise known as agile; it’s not an easy attribute to achieve in a pandemic.


“We have had to overcome challenges to become agile,” said Mason. “In normal times you create user guides or quick start guides, ways of working, before rollouts. But here we’ve quickly shipped off laptops to any team members who need them and generated a self-help, peer-to-peer community [of learning]. It’s a better result we’ve found than top-down leadership, actually.”


Mason has also noticed a higher tolerance for mistakes and learning – outside of the security team, he stresses – and a proactiveness to learn more. The result is that any challenges Bourne is facing from a productivity standpoint is not technology but the physicality of the teams’ new ‘offices’, ie. their homes.


These are the hallmarks of a newly reflexive workforce: quick, eager to learn and unafraid to fail the first time. But there are drawbacks. Security needs to be balanced alongside agility and productivity. It’s a careful blending of all three and in the middle is dynamism.


Does Mason believe there’s a trade off between an agile workforce and a company’s security?


“Yes,” he answers. “The security team [at Bourne] is the one team who haven’t been furloughed. In fact, we’ve added to them!”


Apart from some minor tweaks to remote software tools like Microsoft teams, Mason has been cautious in his deployment of new changes because of the fragility of today’s working environment.


“We’re making as few changes as possible to our systems as change increases risk.”


One interesting aside is the new skills his team has had to perfect since lockdown: flexibility. Since furloughed staff’s jobs still need actioning occasionally, remaining team members have had to pick up the slack. That hasn’t affected their overall productivity, Mason argues, but it has recalibrated his idea of the ideal worker of tomorrow.


“Flexibility is a key skill for today, yes. At the moment we’re trying to define a new technology operating model, which we had started before COVID-19 and then stopped. I will look at it again at how we define work.


“Before, we were heading to more rigid roles and responsibilities. Now I can see we’ve demonstrated that agile isn’t restricted to building online [platforms] and applications. You can apply it to [any business]. Agility is a mindset — post-COVID-19 will be different to pre-.”


Mason goes on to say that it’s been an “eye-opener” how working ‘lean’ has improved them, citing that many of the “sacred cows” have been proved wrong. For Bourne specifically, that will change how they define their new operating system and even their business model, reflected in the new solutions it is working on for a post-pandemic world. Mason is clear, here, that because of the complex nature of pandemics, the timeline for these solutions are not set in stone.


In the closing comments of the interview Mason reflects on the previous unknown unknowns of work lockdown and remote working have suddenly cast a light on. Although for many the events of the last few weeks have been shocking, for those fortunate enough to remain working it has been a chance to test the mettle of their technologies, their systems and their teams. And for Bourne Leisure and its CIO Guy Mason, a chance to remould their business dynamically so it can be as ready as possible when its sector opens up once more.