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How our ‘People First’ approach helped us through the pandemic

Respond, recover, thrive.

It feels like yesterday when I read about these 3 powerful steps in a Deloitte paper on managing a crisis in an organisation. 

Respond refers to when a company manages the continuity of the business while going through a difficult situation. Recover is when the company learns and emerges stronger. Thrive is when the company has prepared and created the “next normal.”

Step 1: Respond (and wear empathy and understanding on your sleeve!)

Since Covid-19 hit Malaysia, the focus of our People Operations team has been clearly defined: our employees are numero uno; everything else comes second.

I still remember the day Rachel (our co-founder & Head of People Operations + Products) drew up a three-layered pyramid on a whiteboard durin our weekly team meeting. Written inside that pyramid was: “people” at the top, followed by “products” in the middle and, lastly, “profit” at the bottom layer. 

So, the “Respond” step for our team was very clear – to take great care of our employees. We froze hiring and focused on creating and maintaining a healthy remote work culture for our employees. 

Much like any other crises, Covid-19 crises are NOT easy to manage as they come with attendant clouds of uncertainties, fears, and obscurities. 

Step 2: Recover with an openness for collaboration and flexibility

A company-wide team building day in August 2020

Even as lockdowns come and go, we’ve always offered flexibility to our employees to manage their work-life fit as best suits them. This is our new normal – a working culture that empowers our teammates to make the best decision for their health and productivity. 

A hybrid work arrangement was the ideal choice for our workplace in the second phase of the pandemic, with 98% of our employees favouring it in a company-wide survey. But as we’ve all seen, when Covid-19 is involved, things can change very fast.

Two positive cases in the office, reported in the same week, meant we had to adapt, and quickly.  The next 36 hours was all-hands-on-deck. In this kind of situation, we understand and uphold the first need for our people – an assurance that they are safe. So, the team scrambled and became a response team for those who were in close-contact. 

We made sure everyone took the necessary steps to monitor and self-quarantine. The workforce quickly shifted to prioritise on remote working. Clear guidelines & FAQs for the whole company on our plan for recovery were transparently communicated, ensuring that no one was left confused or unanswered.  

Sanitisation for the office was carried out. In the meantime, the People Operations team continuously checked-in with the close contacts. It was never our intention to lead our people into this. So, we decided that the company would responsibly pay for Covid-19 tests taken by our employees. 

The worry didn’t stop there. We were also faced with the absence of insurance coverage for Covid-19 in Malaysia at that time. On the other hand, the spread of the virus continued to soar and the nation’s healthcare facilities were nearly collapsing. 

We couldn’t depend on just a stroke of luck and hope that our employees would be safe. We had to take matters into our own hands. After discussing internally with our CEO Henry, we decided that the best course of action was to set up an internal Covid-19 fund covering both hospitalisation and swab tests of our employees because both come at a big price in Malaysia. 

While we were keeping our employees safe with remote work, we also focused on their wellbeing by upholding a healthy work culture and coming up with initiatives to keep our employee engagement level intact. Slowly but surely, we implemented new changes in our onboarding and hiring process while introducing a people-focused remote work policy. 

We hosted a virtual engagement activity in May 2021, a Virtual Escape Room

So many have changed. Do these changes even matter?

In these times, we understand that offering flexibility is imperative and creating changes are a big part of it. This flexibility offers our employees the perfect work-life-fit for them, for both locals and expatriates. 

We allowed our expatriate employees to return to their home country to attend to their urgent personal matters, and supported our employees by letting them prioritise their families first when they’re back home.

As Malaysia rolled out its vaccination plans for Covid-19, we also played our part in ensuring and helping our employees to receive theirs within our best capacity. All these extra efforts we’ve placed so far are part and parcel of our recovery process.

Step 3: Thrive. Embrace agility and adaptability

We put together a “Welcome Back (Again)” Kit for our employees to welcome them back to the office

Now, what about “Thrive”? As much as I would like to answer that in the most straightforward and direct way possible, I can’t. Because the answer to that question requires planning for the long-term and, frankly, we can’t really make that happen in this crisis. After all, it’s a global pandemic and the outcome is still far from clear. But if I had to simplify the answer, our focuses in the People Operations team are to:

  1. Always be empathetic and human-focused in our approaches
  2. Invest on digitalisation and cross-functionality in the workplace
  3. Continually stay adaptable and agile to uncertainties

Right now, we are proud to be 100% vaccinated for Covid-19 and will continue to carry it on even when we are expanding the team. We are glad to know that our employees’ corporate insurance has begun its coverage for Covid-19 now AND we’ll still keep the internal Covid-19 fund running. We are happy to start welcoming back our employees into the office at a limited capacity. And we look forward to accommodating our employees’ needs during this unprecedented time. 

No one can predict precisely when this pandemic will be over. But, as the saying goes, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” This crisis has taught us to always be prepared for the unexpected and aim for the best in everything we do. And for me and my team at the People Operations department, we always strive for excellence in everything we do for our people. So, we’ll continue to do that no matter what, come what may 🙂

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