Novo Cinemas Aims for Keeping Employees Active During COVID-19 Shutdown

Novo Cinemas CEO Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen. Image Courtesy Novo Cinemas.

Gulf region theater chain Novo Cinemas, like the vast majority of chains throughout the world, is currently shut down—but theaters being locked and projectors powered down doesn’t mean the chain is shirking on staying in touch with employees and customers alike. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, the chain began planning a company-wide talent contest, called “Novo’s Got Talent,” designed to engage employees and build team camaraderie; an especially important goal for Novo, CEO Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen explains, since “many of our employees are far away from their homes and families.”

With the shutdown now in effect, various activities and learning programs instituted by the chain have proven valuable in keeping Novo employees—none of whom, at the time this interview was conducted, have been laid off or furloughed—”upbeat and active and positive. … We are really excited to be launching our own Novo’s Got Talent, which will give the team something really fun and exciting to think about,” says Stanford-Kristiansen. “I can’t wait to see the level of talent we have within Novo.”

Below, Novo Cinemas director of sales marketing Melissa Jarvinen speaks in more depth about how Novo is keeping its team together (albeit not physically so) during this challenging time.

Can you give me a rundown on what “Novo’s Got Talent” involves? I’m guessing from the name that it’s a sort of talent competition – what are the details? Are people competing for something? When does it kick-off? What sort of technology (Zoom?) are you using to make it happen?

At Novo Cinemas, we have colleagues from more than 46 different countries and backgrounds. To build team camaraderie, we initiated the “Novo’s Got Talent” quarterly event, and it was due to start just as the government mandated us to close in mid-March. We are not sure when we will open, and all the teams are patiently waiting at home, so we decided to turn this into an opportunity for them to practice and get ready for when we can gather in person.

The best team or entry will win cash prizes, a party will be held at each location, similar to a talent show, and the final nominees will compete together for the grand prizes. Our staff are far from home, family, and what they know, so it is vital we ensure they are connected and kept up to date. 

How many Novo employees do you expect to participate? Is it people at all levels?

Every employee working on location is welcome to participate, and at every level of the organization. Entry to the talent show is open to any level of service employee. Even the judges can participate (but not vote for themselves). [These] comprise of the cinema manager, assistant cinema manager, concession, admin, or box office staff.

What sort of feedback have you gotten so far from Novo employees on Novo’s Got Talent?

There has been very positive feedback and excitement of teams practicing, talking about their costumes and scenes. We created a poster and announced the prize money as well as food and beverage for the talent competitions. We have even seen a few practice WhatsApp videos.

What else is Novo doing to keep employees active during this time? 

During this time where they are either working from home or on paid leave, we initiated a series of team building activities. So far, the team have shared via a WhatsApp group (our most accessible mode of communication with the broader team) images and videos of: favorite pets, family, food, hometown, [favorite] movies, and more. Further, we heavily rely on Microsoft Teams to conduct daily meetings with our leadership colleagues. The HR team sent a series of links for online learning to help colleagues adjust to remote working and even grow their skill set.  During this time, where it is essential to help with this adjustment, Novo Cinemas shared tips on how to manage to be productive while working from home. 

Every month we send out a staff newsletter called The Novo Times. In the newsletter, we include personal milestones such as new family members or achievements. We include puzzles and photographs of the team having fun. Novo Cinemas CEO, Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen, launched an initiative called “Talk to Debbie,” which allows every team member to share their thoughts with her directly. Novo Cinemas is using Microsoft Teams for a group meeting and discussion with Debbie for them to ask questions about the current situation. Our team’s well-being is a priority, and we want to make them understand the current situation to set their minds at ease. 

Is it still true that no Novo employees have been laid off or furloughed?

The owning company, Elan Group, have made sure that to date, no employee has been terminated or furloughed. The entire company is on paid leave or working from home. They have created a solid plan to weather this storm. The senior management sent a personal communication to every staff member reiterating their commitment to the safety and well-being of every employee and their families. These measures included implementing remote working, paid leave and reorganizing working schedules. The empathy shown to the Novo Cinemas community is apparent and appreciated by all during these troubling times. 

Novo is remaining active right now on its social media, maintaining communication with customers in a light-hearted way. What’s your social media strategy right now look like?

Novo Cinemas had to change their social media plan overnight. As there is so much information about COVID-19, we decided to stay true to our core brand value of entertainment. We always promise A Great Time Out and wanted to carry this through our social pages during this time. We have created several pillars of content and built a 30-day calendar aimed at engagement, making people feel happy or just pure fun. At a time like this, the authorities have a good handle on the message, and we do support with public service announcements, but for the most part, we maintain a positive and film-related approach.

Novo Cinemas CEO Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen. Image Courtesy Novo Cinemas.