Organisational response to the fallout from COVID-19 has given rise to adaptability and innovation reshaping the employment landscape.
In response to the public health situation, the HR function is raising the bar by supporting organisations in redeploying workforce capabilities to meet ever changing business needs.
If 2020 was the year that tested the resilience of HR, it was also the year that they exercised their resolve by making necessary and often creative decisions. Across all industry sectors, HR professionals have been at the centre of the response to COVID-19 by playing a crucial role in keeping workforces safe, engaged, productive.
COVID-19 has made flexible ways of working a must. However, while employers recognise that they need to give their employees greater flexibility over when, where and how they work, it also presents the challenge of unlocking higher levels of employee efficiency, engagement and sense of purpose. For instance, amid the shift to remote work and hybrid workforce models, HR teams must preserve company culture and ensure the employee experience keeps up with their expectations.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 has also been an accelerant for digital transformation by expanding the virtual relationship between companies and customers, employers and employees. Organisations are not only focusing on the present, they are looking ahead to the future.
Build talent strengths by reskilling
The airline industry is one of the most prominent business sectors impacted by COVID-19. For budget airline AirAsia, the public health situation created a catalyst to build on existing talent strengths by encouraging the airline’s workforce to learn future-of-work skills. “We are offering learning opportunities covering almost any subject,” said Celia Lao, AirAsia Hong Kong and Macau CEO, who explained that since the majority of AirAsia’s workforce is working remotely, the airline has accelerated the introduction of new programmes and widened the scope of existing ones.
In partnership with Google, AirAsia Allstars (the term AirAsia uses to refer to employees) can learn skills in areas such as AI, machine learning, software engineering, cybersecurity, big data, and infrastructure. “Reskilling is a key component of AirAsia’s strategy to keep talent aligned with evolving business objectives,” Lao said. For example, the initiative fits with the low-cost carrier’s recent pivot to a comprehensive onestop travel and e-commerce “super app” lifestyle platform. “We are encouraging our Allstars to develop critical skills that potentially open up multiple opportunities for their future career development,” Lao said. Delivered in webinar format, the programme is open to AirAsia Allstars from various functions, including pilots, cabin crew and ground staff employees.
Programmes for elevating engagement
AirAsia’s People First Department (HR function) has initiated a host of other activities, besides skills and learning programmes, to keep employees engaged while working remotely. Choices range from yoga sessions to language courses and interactive sessions which enable staff to understand each other’s roles. “Communicating more than we would have pre-COVID has meant we have learnt a lot more about each other, which has also elevated engagement to a new level,” Lao noted.
Strengthen communication to meet challenges
While 2020 was a year of making difficult choices, Lao said communicating the values of the organisation and what they meant for employees during the crisis, when most of them were working remotely, was crucial. While navigating a widespread business downturn, focus was directed at the various ways the airline could help employees and their families solve pandemicrelated challenges. This included regular communication to ensure that employees were clear on how the business would continue to operate and the integral role they would play.
Lead with openness
According to Lao, the airline’s immediate focus was to protect employees’ safety and wellbeing by making sure they had the equipment and support from the management they needed. “Our people are important, they come first because each one of them makes a difference to our business,” she said.
As a leader, showing strength and resilience is important, so is demonstrating openness, understanding and empathy. This is a key reason why a concerted effort is made to ensure that AirAsia’s management team is accessible to employees through the airline’s internal communication channels. “We are a boundary-less organisation,” added Lao.
Colleagues first – from scare to care
As COVID-19 continues to linger on, Stephen Leung, Country Manager of Pfizer Hong Kong and Indonesia, believes that “a company will cease without its people, as reflected in the wisdom of the Chinese character for Enterprise (企)”. Being the Council Member of Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA) and Chairman of People Development Management Committee, as well as the Council Member of Hong Kong College of Health Service Executives (HKCHSE) and Chairman of External Affairs Committee, Stephen is very experienced in people and leader development. The maxim “Lead yourself with your head, lead others with your heart” has enabled Pfizer Hong Kong to build a highly motivated and cohesive team. Stephen and the leadership team are committed to providing resources and support to optimise colleagues’ hybrid work from home mode while colleagues’ safety is of the utmost priority.
Stay connected - family friendliness
During COVID-19, Stephen reckons keeping colleagues informed on the latest medical information and corporate directions is crucial to ease their anxieties. He connects with each colleague virtually, listening to their needs. “I’ll make an appointment with them beforehand, so they don’t have any surprises, not only to show our care but also strengthen our mutual trust and respect.” While COVID-19 has accelerated the use of digital communication, Stephen is a firm believer in the human experience. “High-tech is not equal to high touch,” he noted. “We were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason. The best communicator is always a good listener. I spend more time listening than talking, importantly giving colleagues my undivided attention.”
Stay active – wellness
From the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020, in addition to providing masks for employees, their families and community, Pfizer Hong Kong’s HR team introduced mental and physical wellbeing programmes covering all facets of colleagues’ and their family’s lives because “health is the best gift for their loved ones.” Geraldine Wai, HR Director, said not only do colleagues feel their emotional and psychological wellbeing is cared for, their resilience and social capital are enhanced. “Colleagues want to know if the business is stable and their job is secured,” noted Geraldine. “When staff feel supported and emotionally secured, they can focus on their work and family effectively.”
Pfizer Hong Kong’s long-standing philosophy that “Everyone is a leader” is especially evident in times of COVID-19, said Stephen. Regardless of job title or responsibilities, by leveraging their strengths, every individual is a leader in their field, which ultimately helps Pfizer achieve their business objectives.
Nurturing talent – science will win
While Pfizer is one of the first pharmaceutical companies to develop a vaccine to fight COVID-19, Stephen highlighted the 170-year heritage produces a timely solution to the global health crisis. It is best to depict the industry as solution-oriented by nature.
Stephen mentioned, “People are the cornerstone of our success – teach him to fish, feed him for a lifetime. By making each individual successful, we will succeed as a company and incubate more leaders.” Pfizer Hong Kong looks for candidates with a strong collaborative mindset and “ABC” attributes – Attitude, Belief in oneself and Belief in our company, and Commitment to our mission “Breakthroughs that change patients’ lives”. Stephen emphasised that “we hire for Attitude and train for Skills.”
As COVID-19 resets work trends,
Pfizer continues to “unleash the
power of our own people and nurture
future talents for our company and our
world,” concluded Stephen.