You've heard the saying, "like all storms, this too will pass". Either we wait for the thunderclouds to cross or we adapt and make the best of the situation. In a recent CHRO roundtable, the overwhelming consensus was to forge a new path forward in a brave new world. Report by Aditi Sharma Kalra.

Despite all the talk about disruption, no one could have predicted the impact of the events of 2020 on work, life, and business. It is a changing world indeed, but the pace just sped up from a leisurely countryside drive to a bullet train that shrinks travel times to a fraction of the original. Has HR been able to keep up?

It has – as confirmed at the Virtual CHRO Roundtable curated exclusively by Human Resources Online in partnership with Workday. The event brought together HR thought leaders to share insights on their journey over the last few months and how they navigated this new ‘normal’.

What emerged is that companies across industries have taken different trajectories to operate, survive and re-emerge in this next phase. But one thing that remains consistent is ‘putting people first’. Be in terms of workforce planning and operations to employee wellbeing and mindsets, these CHROs have assured us how employees are truly their greatest asset.

Read on for highlights from the exciting conversation on how HR is priming the business for the road to recovery ahead:

1. Don’t be in a hurry to transition back to the office

Given that many industries have been hit, from a business point of view, the first thing is make sure there's a strong focus on quality activity that generates sales and allows businesses to claw back to where they were prior to the crisis. From an employee point of view, this is the time to stay connected, and keep people focused and engaged with a strong emphasis on communication as well as fun, virtually.

The leadership team, during this period, has to be prepared for mindset change. Many employees are enjoying working from home, given the time they get to spend with their families, while there are others who are raring to get back in the office. As such, ‘putting people first’ should be HR’s key focus during the recovery phase - in terms of giving them the support and understanding their preferences and getting data on whether they want to work from home or return to the office.

2. Optimise individual roles and assignments

With sales facing uncertainty, especially of those in the production of commodities, the focus is on calibrating production capabilities judiciously in line with current demand. From the HR perspective, it is a good time to optimise current resources and for specific individuals, explore role enlargement and taking on additional responsibilities.

With limited movement across borders, this opens up the discussion of basing global positions where talent is currently located. Additionally, in business units where activity has dropped significantly, employees could be reassigned to other divisions or assignments within the company.

And while there are expected to be several grey areas when it comes to where companies stand in terms of job security, increments, bonuses, etc., what’s more important is the assurance and constant communication on each of these aspects.

3. Keep your pulse on employee engagement

This is a crucial time to measure employee engagement, and one of the ways to do that remains the clinical method of putting out annual surveys, quarterly pulse surveys, real-time manager updates, and more. What’s important in these cases is to completely revamp the questions in order to check current mindset, sentiment, engagement; and at the same time, keep the experience less intense in order to be mindful of survey fatigue.

Apart from that, regular communication and updates on hygiene factors is critical in keeping engagement up. Employers have to allow their staff to make informed decisions on how and where they would like to work during this environment, and in most cases, they will truly appreciate being given the opportunity to make that decision for themselves.

What’s clear is that management now has greater trust in employees’ ability to work outside of the office than ever before, which is perhaps one of the few silver linings in what has been a very challenging time for all.


Case study: How Workday’s HR leadership has been driving communication and cadence through three phases

Complementing the roundtable, we spoke to Melissa Bowden, HR Director - Asia Pacific and Japan, Workday, who laid out the team’s approach starting from when the crisis first hit to the current priorities.

“When I think back to the very beginning of the pandemic, it was all about getting the right people into a core COVID-19 team and initiating a regular cadence to allow us to make decisions as information and events were unfolding. We structured our approach to managing the pandemic into three categories:

  • Crisis Response
  • Remote Productivity & Engagement
  • Recover & Thrive

Today we are in the Recover & Thrive phase. That said, it was the actions of what we did in the first two phases that helped us shape how we respond today and continue to respond in the future. And how we ensured that is with communication, which was critical through all of these phases.

An example is through the deployment of surveys such as Feedback Friday, Employee Sentiment, and People Leader survey sent to over 12,000 employees worldwide. This ‘listening’ helped us assess employee sentiment during this period, understand impact on productivity and workload, and determine additional support needed.

For example, when asked if they would return to the office, we know 13% of our Singapore employees want to continue working from home as they benefit from the work-life balance they have created. We know that a further 15% of our employees feel productive working from home and are in no great rush to return to office.

Thus, these findings guide us with the plan to provide employee choice, as well as the flexibility of returning to the office. The outcome of this listening and follow-on action, reinforces the company values and that our decision is focused on employees and their safety; our employees know this.”


The virtual roundtable, held on 10 June, was moderated by HRO’s Heather Ang and Aditi Sharma Kalra, and supported by Melissa Bowden, HR Director – Asia Pacific and Japan, Workday, and Charlene Tan, Sales Director – Singapore, Workday.

Human Resources Online and Workday would like to thank the following HR leaders for being a valuable part of this discussion:

  1. Justin Chan, Assistant Vice President, Head, Workforce Compensation, Certis CISCO Security
  2. Dawn Yeow, Regional HR Director, International SOS
  3. Lim Chee Gay, EVP - Group HR, TDCX
  4. Victoria Bethlehem, Regional CHRO, APAC, Adecco Group
  5. Vidya TC, Director, Talent Acquisition and Internal Talent Mobility, AMERA, Essilor
  6. Imran Bustamam, Head of HR, Ninja Van
  7. Jacely Voon, General Manager, People, Culture & CSR, Fuji Xerox Singapore
  8. Lucy Tan, CHRO, Natsteel Holdings
  9. Gary Lee, Global Head, People & Organisational Development HR Director (Singapore), Sivantos
  10. Melissa Kee, CHRO, Kuok Singapore

- Report with inputs by Priya Sunil