Companies share tips on tackling Covid-19 fallout

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on businesses on several fronts, from disrupting supply chains to causing demand to plunge and bottom lines to shrink.

Some companies, however, have managed to turn the crisis into opportunities to reorganise their operations or upskill their staff so that they would be among the first to capture recovery when it comes around.

At a SkillsFuture Forum last Friday, industry leaders shared examples of how their companies have tapped retraining and technology to mitigate the fallout from the public health crisis.

MR CHOE PENG SUM

Chief executive, Pan Pacific Hotels Group

The hotel industry is known for being very labour intensive and the Covid-19 pandemic has given the Pan Pacific Hotels Group the opportunity to relook its organisational structure.

"Just at the front desk, you have the security, bellman, doorman, concierge, reception, reception managers... Can you imagine shrinking it all into one position and calling it a client relation executive or guest relations officer? That has to be done in our kind of business," said Mr Choe.

The process is known as delayering, he said, adding that it is a difficult but crucial aspect in rethinking a hotel's operating model.

"It needs a lot of reskilling, it needs a lot of job redesign," said Mr Choe.

He shared the example of having a central reservations department for the rooms and a separate one for the restaurants. The departments were merged into an all-encompassing entity and the affected staff were able to step up to their new role with retraining.

The hotels in the group also underwent renovation and redesign to keep up with improved work processes after delayering, increasing the application of technology and reskilling of employees.

"We closed down a lot of our hotels to renovate because it's not just about the reskilling of staff," said Mr Choe.

MS SUSAN CHONG

Chief executive, Greenpac

When Singapore raised the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) level to orange in February, packaging company Greenpac continued to fulfil its supply chain, ensuring that its clients still received their equipment.

This is because the company had budgeted about $500,000 to move its SAP software to a cloud platform, thus allowing its staff to work from home easily during Dorscon orange, a situation in which the coronavirus outbreak was deemed to have moderate to high public health impact but was still under control.

"Sixty per cent of our customers are from the medical industry. We pack equipment such as respirators, ventilators and DNA-analysing equipment. So it becomes very critical and essential," said Ms Chong.

"Without packaging, none of the equipment will move."

 
 
 

She added that the company saw business opportunity in the crisis - it acquired seven new clients in May, when circuit breaker measures to stem the spread of Covid-19 were still in force.

MR TOBY KOH

Group managing director, Ademco Security Group

When the company started using American software firm Salesforce's cloud platform to improve efficiency, it was difficult for employees to understand the value of learning how to use the platform.

"Changing people's mindset is the toughest thing I have ever tried to do. But at the end of the day, it's about convincing the team that there is value in that change," said Mr Koh.

The staff eventually saw the benefits of upskilling, the greatest of which being convenience for them.

Mr Koh shared that in the past, when an employee went to meet a client and realised that he did not have certain information, he had to rush back to the office to retrieve that piece of information.

With a cloud platform, however, the employee could immediately access the information without going back to the office.

As a result, he could finish his tasks and get off work early.

"From the company's perspective, it gave us a lot more flexibility as well as business continuity," said Mr Koh.

MS ADELINE SIM

Executive director and chief legal officer, HRnetGroup

The pandemic has thrown employees and employers a curve ball in the form of working from home.

For bosses, concerns include how to conduct effective meetings via video-conferencing tools such as Zoom.

For workers, a major challenge is how to appear professional in their home environment.

"In the comfort of your home, how do you ensure that your virtual background is switched on and your kids are not disrupting your meetings?" said Ms Sim.

"This sounds very mundane but there's actually training that has to be done in order to project yourself professionally digitally."

 
 
 
 

While an employee's work performance is usually driven by results, Ms Sim thinks that personal development is also important.

She gets her teams to set aside 10 per cent of their key performance indicator for personal development and they have to share what courses they have attended, as well as what they have learnt.

Staff also receive cross-functional training by participating in three projects every year that would equip them with different skills. This enables them to step up to fill their colleague's role if needed.

"I believe that's the way to go, your learning has to be continuous," said Ms Sim.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2020, with the headline 'Companies share tips on tackling Covid-19 fallout'. Subscribe