It’s been more than two months since a majority of Singaporeans had to work from home. Even as we enter phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening, the Singapore government has stressed that working from home should be the default mode for all companies. Still, we see some employers eager for employees to return to the offices with some failing to implement safe management measures and others unable to justify the need to work in the office rather than home.
On the other hand, we see that employees want to continue working from home in some capacity, with 9 in 10 wishing to do so. Why the dichotomy? As a company, the implications of doing so are large. The first on the minds of all being productivity, especially for those that work in teams. Yet, the situation we are in is one of necessity, our lives literally depend on it.
Recognising this, and in compliance with government regulations that work towards a new ‘COVID-19-safe’ normal, employers should look at other ways to address their concerns over productivity.
Going back to the office is not the only option, and companies can offer employees the crucial support they need to stay productive whilst safeguarding their well-being. We need to continually reframe our responses as our employees juggle family and community needs, as well as their work and personal well-being.
The past months of working from home have proven that companies can remain productive, as long as they meaningfully support their employees. I’ve seen this across our offices, in Singapore and globally, and here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt.
1) Trust in your teams
The number one priority for every company is to get back up to speed, by enabling remote teams to work together efficiently and productively. This can only happen if you trust your team.
Micro-managing remotely is doomed to fail and will ultimately alienate employees and frustrate managers. Instead, a manager’s default mindset has to be based on the belief that employees want and will do their best.
Focus on the outcomes rather than monitoring activities and understand that not all work has to happen at the same time. If you’re worried about free-riding in teams, make productivity objective and measurable but also be flexible about employees’ personal circumstances. Reassessing priorities is crucial, so the team works concertedly towards what is most important for the business.
The job of employers is to provide flexibility, whilst creatively recreating a safe and conducive work experience that lets employees thrive.
2) Reinforce lines of communication
If companies are to trust their teams and give them the tools to succeed remotely, communication is key.
With casual chats at the coffee machine and physical catch-ups over lunch a thing of the past, communication today needs to be formalised, clear, frequent, and consistent. We are after all living in a new world. Timely information can help people cope better and gain a sense of control in their lives. Ensure teams are clear about what is happening at the company, how it is responding to the multitude of challenges, and how this impacts a team’s roles and responsibilities. And once you have laid the groundwork, update and repeat. Be sure to take questions and ask for opinions. Be willing to hear of difficulties and take criticism.
Staying transparent and facilitating dialogue can give employees the clarity they need to work more effectively and remain productive through this period.
There are a whole host of ways companies can strengthen and open up communication channels. We’ve found virtual question and answer sessions, with our CEO Guru Gowrappan, and daily newsletters to employees both helpful to provide relevant updates and resources.
3) Replicate the rhythm of work remotely
In the pre-COVID-19 world, there was a certain rhythm to our lives -- hit the snooze button for half an hour, cajole children to get ready for school, and then the daily commute. It is apparent just how important that rhythm was to our daily lives, and also to our workday.
This experience is far more difficult to recreate when working from home, especially when structures and routines are at risk of changing abruptly at any time. That’s why it is so important for managers to maintain some of the day-to-day rhythms of working life.
Daily catch-ups should continue, with progress updates maintained. Team lunches can be replaced by a virtual karaoke session or virtual coffee at 4pm! Make sure these are planned and logged in calendars well in advance, and that your team has the right equipment and technology to take part.
Based on our employees’ response, we are also seeing that it is important to strengthen support schemes to enhance employees’ well-being. For example, our Parents And Caregivers Together (PACT) Employee Resource Group (ERG) is helping employees, their families and caregivers to navigate the resources available to them. Given the unprecedented situation, we also offer employees and household members 24/7 confidential crisis support and virtual counselling sessions.
4) Think beyond work and cultivate communities
One thing that hasn’t changed in recent months is an employee’s priorities outside of work. For the majority of people, we see concerns about family taking precedence, as it should; employee’s well-being is intrinsically linked to that of their family.
Where possible and practical, companies need to bring families into their circle of support. Consider families when you communicate with your employees, ask about their children and include them in your support plans. For example, we have galvanised employees to share #forthekids activities that tap on a shared pool of resources available to everyone.
Companies also need to be mindful about those who are living alone and who may still be wary about physically meeting people. Recreate the social spaces they enjoy in the office by moving peer groups online. Encourage them to unite virtually, to share their experiences.
One of the most therapeutic experiences our employees report is supporting their local communities. We have introduced a volunteer section to our daily newsletter where employees share their community endeavours and champion initiatives. In our Singapore office, our Volunteer Champion team mobilised colleagues and collected ‘Thank You’ cards that were sent to healthcare heroes.
5) Be transparent and responsive
This situation is so unusual, that as employers, as managers, we have to be able to admit that we don’t have all the answers. We are all at different points on the same learning curve.
We can’t predict the trajectory of this pandemic, the way governments will respond, or how the global economy will adapt. There are many unknowns and it is fine to admit that. The most important factor, though, is that employees can count on you to be open, transparent and responsive at all times.
COVID-19 and its business impact do not respect title, status, profits or share price. Everyone has to be in this together. Make sure your employees have the support they need and know that you are with them every step of the way.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Rico Chan is Co-Head APAC of Verizon Media. He first joined the senior leadership team of Yahoo Hong Kong in 2009 bringing in his versatile sales & marketing and senior management experiences of over 25 years from the Information Technology to Media arena both in Hong Kong and in the Mainland of China.
Then, as the Head of Advertising Business with Yahoo Hong Kong in the first four years, Rico was responsible for direct sales, channel sales and online business development, driving the integration of Display and Search Marketing sales teams – taking the creativity and business growth of Hong Kong’s online advertising to the next level.
In 2013, Rico was promoted to Vice President and General Manager of Yahoo Hong Kong. Starting from 2014 fall, he has expanded his role in overseeing advertising business of India and South East Asia injecting his firing passion and unparalleled expertise across Asia Pacific.
Rico is now a key member of Verizon Media APAC leadership team, overseeing Hong Kong, India, Southeast Asia, Japan, and Australia and New Zealand markets and operations.