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Industry Insider: HR needs to intimately understand business drivers to tailor talent solutions

Industry Insider: HR needs to intimately understand business drivers to tailor talent solutions

Industry Insider: Huanmin Huang, Chief of Staff, ShopBack
Sector spotlight: tech startup (e-commerce)
Based in: Singapore

Even as the pandemic forces HR and talent acquisition teams to rethink and rework critical work processes, this organisation has managed to help staff retain their personal work structure and routine, foster stronger bonds, and enable continued personal growth and development.

The #1 talent challenge the sector is facing

Organisations large and small, across all industries, are experiencing the repercussions of COVID-19.

The pandemic has forced our HR and talent acquisition (TA) teams to rethink and rework numerous critical work processes at ShopBack, including conducting interviews and onboarding and offboarding employees virtually. However, the biggest challenge for us was figuring out how to fortify our company's culture during a time of tremendous change. I will expand on these below.

As an organisation experiencing a fundamental shift in business processes, we have to be flexible, empathetic and compassionate. The social and psychological resilience of all ShopBackers, as well as our ability to quickly pivot in the face of change, have never been more paramount.

Key developments that are intensifying the challenge

The pandemic has pushed many businesses to digitise their operations and communication systems at breakneck speed. Thankfully, being a tech start-up with a younger and more digitally-savvy team, the transition process was easier for us as it is almost second nature for ShopBackers to learn and quickly adopt new technologies. This has saved us a lot of time, which we were instead able to shift into improving efficiencies, coming up with new ways to serve our customers and focusing on business continuity.

Beyond business continuity, we also saw opportunities to ramp up on bringing in new brands and launch new mechanics to support our merchants during this period. As many businesses have started to onboard onto e-commerce marketplaces and create their own .com stores, we have been doubling down on our efforts to on-board new brands onto the platform. In Singapore, we have added close to 100 brands to our roster of merchants since April, including Selfridges, iShopChangi, and Melissa. We have also rolled out flash sales with several merchant partners including Dyson, Lenovo, NordVPN, and Raser, to drive awareness and orders. On average, flash sales typically boost orders by around 10x compared to a regular day.

Best practices: Strategies/interventions that have worked

While it is unfortunate that we can’t give candidates the personal touch that comes with face-to-face interaction during this time, our Talent Acquisition team is taking the necessary measures to ensure remote candidate experiences can be as comprehensive as before - this includes adopting web-based tests and virtual interviews to screen prospective hires. This does not mean that hiring standards have been compromised; candidates are sometimes assessed by up to eight ShopBackers for job and culture fit before they're hired!

The process of onboarding and offboarding has had to drastically change as well. To keep face-to-face interactions between ShopBackers at a minimum, we worked through courier to deliver welcome packs and laptops to new hires, and also collect laptops and other equipment from offboarding employees. Our HR team has also prepared a virtual welcome presentation for new joiners who are unable to experience the customary first-day office tour. We share the company values and goals at the start of a new joiner’s journey, so that they can best align their personal goals with the company’s goals.

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to fortify (and continue cultivating) the ShopBack company culture when the entire office is working remotely. The first step was to quickly activate our business continuity plan to ensure that all ShopBackers were able to retain their personal work structure and routine. For instance, some managers conduct regular 1-1 meetings and set up daily group calls for team members to provide task updates or just to have casual conversations. Having regular meetings are not only important for productivity and accountability, they also help to ensure interaction among employees of both a social and work nature, which is good for mental health and also to build team rapport and solidarity.

We were also intentional in fostering stronger social bonds (albeit virtually) through company-wide activities and initiatives, so that ShopBackers have a strong internal support network to see them through tough times. We maintained learning programmes that emphasise the need for continued personal growth and development. Our hope is that ShopBackers will recognise the importance of constant self-improvement and reinvention, which will give them greater confidence to traverse times of uncertainty.

Examples of initiatives led by HR / functional teams to foster organisational culture and allow ShopBackers to stay connected and bonded include:


  • The HR team organises guest webinars and virtual “ShopBack Speaker Series”, which are educational seminars and talks by industry experts. Some past sessions include "What Makes A Good Question?” by entrepreneur Gwendolyn Regina Tan and a sharing session by Ng Yixian, Executive Director at EtonHouse International.
  • The Regional Marketing team conducts ‘The Breakfast Show’ every weekday morning to kickstart the day. During the video call, each team member will take turns to present a topic of their choosing - this can range from best practices from brand case studies to a summary of an insightful article they have read

Health & Wellness

  • ShopBack’s weekly fitness sessions (such as HIIT and yoga) have been shifted online, and the invitation has been extended to ShopBackers in other markets who are able to join via Zoom
  • Earlier this month, GrowthBeans conducted an “Enhancing Emotional Well-Being” webinar to equip ShopBackers with the skills to enhance wellbeing and positivity by managing our emotions at home.


  • ShopBack's resident DJ, DJ Mings, has brought heart-thumping tunes to the homes of all ShopBackers during his virtual ‘DJ party nights’.
  • Just last month, the HR team organised a Virtual Cocktail Experience guided and hosted by Diageo's World Class Bartender of the Year Winner 2019 and head bartender at Anti:Dote, Bannie Kang.
  • Several teams in ShopBack have arranged weekly or bi-weekly virtual lunch meetings so that they can emulate the experience of eating together as a team in the office pantry. Some have even added creative twists to their lunches to keep things interesting - for example, one team ran a ‘Secret Santa’-style lunch exchange whereby each person orders a surprise meal to a randomly assigned teammate

The next big priority for HR professionals in this sector

In the fast-moving tech startup space, HR professionals need to remain nimble and sensitive to subtle shifts in the work landscape. How do we design career tracks for a 'career jungle gym' millennial workforce? How do we balance the employee's need for personal growth with the organisation's need for continuity? How do we instill a sense of ownership across the entire organisation?

It is important for HR to be able to intimately understand the drivers of the business - be it commercial or technological - in order to tailor talent solutions to address its needs. Data literacy, gumption to break out of existing frameworks, and a 'business first' mindset are key traits to stay agile and relevant to business stakeholders.

Lastly, HR professionals have always had, and always will have, a duty of care for employee mental and emotional wellbeing. Going forward, they need to ensure that they are equipped with the tools, knowledge, and skills to detect, diagnose, and resolve employee stress and burnout, even in remote work settings.

How CHROs are proactively preparing for the future workplace

We have to ensure that all future corporate policies are able to balance employee wellbeing, advice from local authorities, and the overall needs of the business.

Although some practices may revert to being conducted in-person again, we need to be adaptable with many of our processes. If we can achieve similar (or even better) outcomes using different approaches, we must be open-minded enough to try.

Photo / provided

About ShopBack

ShopBack is a one-stop rewards platform where users can earn cashback on their purchases, while delivering performance-based marketing to merchants.

First launched in Singapore in 2014, ShopBack has since expanded its reach to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, Vietnam, and most recently, South Korea. ShopBack entered South Korea in April this year, through the acquisition of Ebates Korea, the nation’s largest online cashback platform.

In Singapore, the company has around 200 employees in functions such as engineering, marketing, operations, finance and HR.

As of Q2 2020, ShopBack has:

  • Over 20mn users
  • 4,000 merchants
  • Awarded US$115mn in cashback to its users

shopback team photo2 resized

the shopback journey finalupdated q2 2020

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