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Pauline Puay, VP HR at Singapore-based gaming startup Storms, firmly believes that startups can find the right balance between giving employees the freedom to work remotely while ensuring their wellbeing by humanising the way they operate. Pauline fosters Storms’ startup culture through various initiatives such as:

  • Dedicated one-on-one fireside chat sessions with the CEO,
  • Town halls where employees play Storms’ instant games together in tournaments,
  • A ‘Level Up’ plan, that requires departmental teamwork to achieve objectives.

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Walter Wriston once said, “Human capital will go where it is wanted, and it will stay where it is well treated. It cannot be driven; it can only be attracted.”

As a human resources (HR) practitioner who was involved in the formation of the A-Team that eventually accelerated the growth of some of the world’s leading technology firms during their early days in the Asia Pacific region, I can relate to where he was coming from.

Human capital is the greatest asset that a company has - especially for those which operate in a fast-moving industry where innovations are key to thrive and sustain. Attracting the right talent for the right job is one, and keeping them engaged in a healthy working environment is another.

While the pandemic has shown us the largest working-from-home experiment that led to the demand from employees for flexible remote work options to continue, Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index report revealed that workers in the Asia Pacific region are facing increased burnout due to factors such as the lack of separation between work and personal life.

Startups, in particular, are often faced with challenges relating to high-stress work environments due to their fast pace.

I am of the belief that companies - including startups - can find the right balance between giving employees the freedom to work remotely and ensuring their wellbeing by making their workplaces more employee-friendly.

Keeping workers safe and productive

First and foremost, companies should empower their employees by defaulting to trust and enabling them to work anywhere they deem fit.

At Storms, one of our greatest employee value propositions (EVP) was the introduction of flexible work arrangement/work-from-anywhere policy during its early days, and I have personally witnessed the benefits that such a working arrangement has for both my team members and the business.

For my team members, the flexible work arrangement enables them to save time on commuting and work effectively at a place where they feel the most productive.

As for startups like Storms, this arrangement enables the company to expand its team beyond borders and without a larger office space.

Indeed, there are challenges that come with such working arrangements. Keeping employees engaged and feeling belonged when physical contacts are rather limited is one - not to mention how companies can provide them with the opportunities to build personal connections with those within and outside their departments.

To balance flexible work arrangements with employee engagements, companies could rethink the way they are empowering their employees with benefits that keep their minds at peace, as well as opportunities that help them grow both as a person and as a professional.

Recognising this, my team brainstormed and introduced a new initiative called ZESTUP! @ Storms, where employees are given the opportunities to participate in various wellness sessions such as Zumba, Pilates and K-Kardio virtually.

Using the budget that we managed to save - thanks to the flexible work arrangement, my team has also successfully rolled out an enhanced medical insurance plan, providing dependent coverage, so that our employees can have peace of mind during this uncertain time, as well as we have designed a goal-setting framework that incorporates the employee’s individual development plan.

Seeing how these initiatives were well-received by Stormers (how Storms’ employees identify themselves), these might be worth considering for other HR practitioners.

Flexible working arrangements: Is it a wise option?

A recent study conducted by JLL found that while employees across the Asia Pacific region have adapted to extensive work from home arrangements, over 60% of the respondents working remotely shared that they missed going to the office as they were craving the cultural and human experience within an office space.

While I agree that employees should be given the freedom to work at the place where they feel the most comfortable, we need to also bear in mind that their safety and health should always be the company’s top priority.

As we are monitoring the situation, HR leaders should not wait until the pandemic gets better to create a conducive environment for open communications, as well as a platform for employees to get connected virtually.

For startups that typically have smaller teams, it is especially important for their HR team to work hand-in-hand with the company’s leadership team to ensure that each of their team members understands and practises the company’s vision and core values.

At Storms, our CEO dedicates time for one-on-one fireside chat sessions each week, where our Stormers can simply book his calendar to discuss anything under the sun - from personal wellbeing to career-related matters.

We have also designed our onboarding process to allow new joiners of all levels - from interns to senior leaders - to virtually meet with other team members within and outside their departments to better understand how each department contributes to the company’s success.

Creating a respectful, healthy culture

Besides enabling open communications, it is also important for companies to instil their core values in the heart of their employees. As someone from the mobile gaming industry, I have witnessed how this can be done in a fun manner.

In our recent virtual town hall, for instance, our Product team invited everyone in the company to compete on our own instant games. We are all gamers, to begin with, so it was not surprising to see that everyone felt challenged to top the leaderboards and win prizes.

It is exciting to see how an activity that might come across as simple can bring people together while appreciating the work that other teams have done to bring the games to life.

It is also great to be reminded that we all need time to unwind, and it can be done by playing easy-to-play games that do not require much time investment.

As we are hoping for the pandemic to end soon, we can all play a part in making our workplaces more humane for everyone to contribute and thrive - and it all starts with welcoming people from all walks of life with open arms and warm smiles, albeit virtually during this period.

Photo / Provided [featuring the author, Pauline Puay]

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