Our HR Specialist and Team Lead, Jia Rong, was recently invited to Money Mind with Stanley Leong and Susan Ng on CNA938 Live to share his thoughts on how employers should best manage employees new to working from home (WFH), and why leaders play a vital role in communicating during the COVID-19 outbreak period.
What we covered
Knowing warning signs that your new work arrangements or business continuity plan aren't working too well
Observing employee productivity and disconnect whilst working from home
Minimising emotions of anxiety and fear about COVID-19 at work
Keeping staff morale up when there's fear of job security during times of business uncertainty
Got some 15 minutes? Here's a replay:
Or read the full transcript:
(TL;DR? Key takeaways are just below)
Stanley Leong 0:02
Now on our program, we're always interested in matters relating to the workplace and today's conversation is not going to be any different in light of COVID-19.
Many organisations have instituted work arrangements that differ from their pre-coronavirus days. If you remember what those days were like... well, it's now likely that your company has put in place measures like work from home (WFH) arrangements or maybe team segregation and with stringent restrictions on calling of all kinds of face to face meetings with clients or business partners and other cooperations like gatherings, conventions, town hall meetings may be internally, perhaps there's also maybe a travel freeze?
Susan Ng 0:42
Yeah, this could be quite unsettling for some people because we're looking not only about how we work we're looking at when we work and where you work. All of this could have changed for many people. So it's not surprising if workers begin to feel a little bit isolated. Or maybe even a sense of disconnect.
Stanley and I talked about this earlier, you can't turn to your friend now and say, hey, let's go for lunch. And you might feel this disconnect from some colleagues and also from management. Morale could fall and this could also drop down productivity levels.
So, what are some of those red flags that your staff are feeling a little bit out of sorts when your business continuity plan or BCP is in place? What can managers and HR teams do to boost morale during times like this?
Stanley Leong 1:30
Well, we have someone on the line who is qualified to give us some advice on how you can identify the stresses and the stressors of adjusting to a new normal at the workplace and what managers, HR professionals can do to bring some calm to the situation... as well as to keep motivation levels up for your staff.
We speak now on CNA 938 with HR specialist Wong Jia Rong. He is a senior HR consultant and team lead at BGC Group. They are an international recruitment and manpower outsourcing firm. Jia Rong, thank you for spending time with us today.
Jia Rong (BGC) 2:03
Hi Stanley, thanks for having me on radio today.
Stanley Leong 2:05
Now it's not - of course, these days business, as usual, given we are in the season of COVID-19. Many companies still trying to put in place BCPs and auditing them to see if they're watertight. In fact, it's business UNUSUAL because contingency plans have kicked in and these can be unsettling for some staff.
What would you say are some warning signs that HR managers can sit up and take notice of, that would suggest that may be the new system, the new way of operating isn't working well for all their staff?
Jia Rong (BGC) 2:39
First thing I would like to say, for business continuity plans, is always to ensure that the personnel and assets of a company are always protected and able to function quickly in times of such threats or any disasters that happen.
So I personally feel that for Singapore right now... It's a very interesting time and a situation to be in because it is actually precautionary measures that we are having all these BCP plans coming in.
It's going to seem like one of the largest work from home experiments to date. And the COVID-19 situation looks fairly controlled in Singapore for now - I feel that companies can fully conduct the test runs of their working from home (WFH) arrangements - and trying to make improvement tweaks along the way. So in case anything escalates further.. your employees are able to adapt effectively and reduce the spread of the virus without impacting any of their main operations. So there are quite a few different factors to focus on.
Firstly, I think you need to focus on the basics of your operations and a very good analogy that I can give is similar to your smartphone. So using your phone itself and is low on battery, there's actually no capacity for your luxuries, for example - browsing or social media streaming of videos, you just need to look at the basics of making calls and sending out messages... doing the bare essentials.
Putting that into a business context, basic operations should run as per usual. So any additional projects that can be put on hold? It should be shelved at the moment so that staff are able to adapt to these new changes and let them settle in. So personnels sometimes may react negatively to such major changes in such work environments. Self productivity will be one of the best signs to look out for. When it starts dropping? Individual KPIs may take a hit. So monitor these changes and listen to your employees. I'll encourage all employers to stay very close to the ground for the first few weeks and manually keep track of all their daily tasks and consistently make sure everything's been completed with the same quality. Day to day work should not be affected. Every company has their own ways to track their KPI so I think they need to keep a lookout for this to ensure that disruptions should be minimised.
Stanley Leong 4:44
If I can jump in here and ask whether or not it's also increasingly more challenging for managers to keep track... like you say, be close to the ground to keep track, but given the fact that you know, we are kind of almost segregated sometimes with managers or team leads.
How can they best do that without also sounding... you know, seemingly encroaching into, you know? That whole space of, "well you don't trust me? That I'm doing the best I can as a part of your team?"
Susan Ng 5:10
And that's quite a real feeling that people do have.
Jia Rong (BGC) 5:13
I agree. So what we recommend supervisors to do is to have short quick checks with your team members. So on a daily basis, if possible, they should check in with their department to see how everyone is adapting. If there are any issues they're facing when they're working from home?
Getting the usual updates on what's being done to ensure that the issues are resolved. So keeping all these quick checks to be very short and sweet to just get the basic info would help to neutralise any of these feelings that they're being checked on. So... that's one way of doing it. If it is not possible for a daily meet, maybe a weekly informal catch up will do? So this will also allow the team to keep in contact with one another, and to see each other via video chat and share on what they're doing right now.
Stanley Leong 5:58
Okay, so important to check-in.
Susan Ng 6:00
Yeah, it is important to check-in, I think. And the other thing, I think is, although we're working on BCPs, and things like that... these are the real things. There are things which perhaps, are a little bit more difficult to tackle, which is... fear.
It's the fear of so many things at the beginning, people were just afraid of even going out. But I think that has mitigated, just a little bit.
What can organisations do to minimise this whole feeling of fear amongst their employees?
Jia Rong (BGC) 6:32
I think right now, there are two main fears that people have (about) going to work. The first is being exposed to the virus during your commute to work, and the other is actually catching the virus in the workplace from your colleagues. So in such times, instead of adding any fuel to the fire, the management and HR team should really stay level headed and prevent any fear from manifesting in the workplace.
On the surface, what we encourage is for organisations to have is at least some basic workplace safety measures for their employees. Firstly, I think, is to have the office stocked well with personal protection equipment.. PPE - needed to tackle such diseases. So things like the thermometer, face masks, hand sanitisers... All these things should be readily available for their employees so that they can keep themselves safe once they step into the office.
Other things will be to send out memos to let everyone know about stepping up cleaning measures. disinfecting the offices on a daily basis. And in fact, in high traffic areas like for BGC Group, we ensure that our interview rooms are more frequently disinfected on a more regular basis to protect the candidates.
Monitoring your employees' health is one last thing we need to do right now. So conducting temperature checks at least twice a day, and ensuring that everyone adheres to good personal hygiene habits.... putting up small posters reminding all employees to wash their hands and also letting them know to seek immediate help for medical attention. It let's say that is required and to also inform your supervisors if they start to show any symptoms so that they are able to do any contact tracing required.
A large thing right now be more on (managing) anxiety? So we will actually encourage employers to set up small hot-desking areas. If required for staff are feeling unwell with minor coughs, so they do not mix with the rest of the colleagues and not cause any more anxiety in the workplace.
Stanley Leong 8:20
Right. Sometimes the anxiety spreads faster than the virus. (Laughs)
We are speaking with Wong Jia Rong. He is a senior HR consultant and team lead at BGC Group and we're getting his take on how we can help to prevent the further spread of fear and anxiety among staff, and also, more importantly, boosting staff morale during the season of COVID-19.
Now with team segregation and work from home orders, it also means that you know, more and more workers don't have that opportunity to interact with their colleagues, their clients, their bosses... with HR as well. What if you have questions for HR? But sorry, you can't see them anymore!
What solutions can you propose for companies or managers to help reduce this feeling of isolation among their staff?
Jia Rong (BGC) 9:07
All right. So I think this feeling of isolation is not something we see daily, nowadays with so much advancement in technology? With more than a third of the millennials in our current global workforce, I think it's a bit rare to see that people are feeling isolated. So most of them are already familiar with office chat systems, even WhatsApp or Telegram? So they are able to keep in constant contact with their fellow colleagues.
I think one thing that HRs can encourage to reduce the feeling of isolation is to utilise video options during online group meeting... so to try and recreate as much as they can, a similar office atmosphere for their workers.
And other than that? Managers and supervisors, as well as HR, should always remain contactable and online via their official channels. So that if let's say anyone has questions, queries, or worries about the workplace, they can reach out to these appropriate personnel.
Another thing we'd recommend is actually a rotational calendar for staff members? So if some of them are able to come in on certain days to meet their colleagues, I think that would be best for them to reduce this feeling of isolation.
Susan Ng 10:11
We continue our conversation talking about something else... that is just a feeling people have. Jia Rong.
Because when businesses slow down, and many businesses have - and you read of businesses that will either close or let go of people.
Some employees may worry that they will be asked to either go on unpaid leave, or, I mean, the worst case scenario is that you get laid off. What can companies do during these tough times to talk to their staff about these issues?
Jia Rong (BGC) 10:41
Okay, I understand that in Singapore right now, everything's been quite well controlled for the COVID-19. I would say globally, all businesses are being affected and this feeling would most likely come up from many different employees. So as much as possible, employers should first adhere to MOH and MOM guidelines.
So avoid advising any employees to go on unnecessary unpaid leave, or in a worst-case scenario to even go into a retrenchment. So alternative measures can always be considered in these situations.
We encourage companies to actually even use this downtime to undertake training programs and reskill or even upskill their employees. This will help them make sure that companies will be better equipped when the situation improves and bounce back even faster.
One thing we are used to advising our clients is to have constant communication with the employees. So leaders at the forefront, they are giving all this encouragement to the employees and during such time of instability, a lot of employees look to their leaders for help.
So they need to reinforce the internal and external communication team to drive the message across that the company has the staff welfare at heart. A good way to showcase, as we have seen in many of the news articles these days, is that good leadership has inspired more company confidence. And top management teams in Singapore have taken pay cuts as businesses take a hit. So this actually inspires confidence for the job security and shows that the whole company's in it together. And it's a good test to make sure that the company is resilient.
Aside from this, making sure that the way the information is conveyed to the staff, is very important. So do it well. And make sure that you take an empathetic stand on the matter. Being transparent on what's happening behind these business decisions will build further trust. And, of course, you know, being very honest, to reassure employees and making sure that the feel that they matter to the business is great as well. So I would say, largely, it's seeing how everything's being communicated to the employees itself, as compared to just giving a straightforward memo on a pay cut. This might not sit very well with the employees themselves and make them less confident in the company.
Stanley Leong 12:48
Yes, sure. Jia Rong, also tell us what is happening over at your organisation, BGC Group. I mean, you are international recruitment and manpower outsourcing firm.
So what is in place to make sure that employees at your organisation are adapting to the so called, "new normal"?
Jia Rong (BGC) 13:05
Ah, so actually here at BGC Group, I would say it is pretty much business as usual.
We are already very used to doing a lot of our things online. In fact, for our general office population, we are used to running discussions virtually, with our overseas partners, making sure that all major updates and announcements are disseminated through online mediums. Making sure that we keep track of everyone's temperature, health declarations, observing personal hygiene and exercising social responsibility.
What we do, actually, is to step up a bit more on our precautionary measures. So we get candidates to declare their travel plans and take the temperatures before coming down for interviews. And as much as we can, do some video interviews so that we don't have to, you know, make them come down all the way to our office for it. And so we make full use of our online application tracking systems (ATS), keeping a log of our interviews conducted, so that in the case that there's any candidate who might have gotten the virus, we are able to conduct some contact tracing so that everyone stays safe.
And I would say everyone in the office so far, have reacted quite positively to this change. So even when they're working from home, they don't feel any isolation, they are able to keep in contact with their managers. And I'll say, yeah, it's actually quite per normal here at our company.
Stanley Leong 14:17
Which is good! Thank you so much for all the advice that you're given to us. In fact, if our listeners would like to read up more on a blog article that is on your website, they can visit bgc-group.com.
There's a blog title, titled, "6 simple ways to improve staff morale during the COVID-19 pandemic", that's found on your website. Thank you so much, Jia Rong, for speaking with us.
Jia Rong (BGC) 14:41
Thank you so much for having us.
TL;DR? 10 pieces of useful advice from BGC Group
Business not doing well? Everyone is affected by it too. And now is the best time to test run your BCP and WFH plans and make improvements along the way.
Stay close to the ground and listen to your employees to see how they are adapting to new changes,
Set a fixed schedule to have short, casual check ins to get updates from the team if needed via video calls. Trust the team more and avoid going into too much into specifics or control over minute details.
Encourage the use of technology and apps to facilitate team effectiveness and reduce feelings of isolation.
Supervisors, managers and HRs should always stay contactable online and easy to reach.
Always get information and guidelines from trusted official sources such as MOM and MOH.
Avoid asking employees to go on unneccessary unpaid leave, voluntary retirement or unplanned retrenchment.
Consider making use of this downtime to undertake training programs and reskill your employees.
Constant communication with leadership as the face will improve employee confidence in staff welfare.
Be transparent about major business decisions that impact employees, and communicate empathetically.
If you are an employer or an HR executive scrambling to make sense out of the COVID-19 scare, these articles may point you in the right direction. Keep calm, no stress.
If anything, BGC Group is here to help you out with your recruitment and HR outsourcing needs.
Just drop us a quick message!