Winning Secrets: Far East Hospitality

At the Employee Experience Awards 2022, Singapore, hospitality company Far East Hospitality (FEH) received the silver award for Best Response to COVID-19.

In this interview, the FEH team tells Human Resources Online how the organisation adapts to the ever-changing COVID-19 situation, while importantly keeping its workforce protected, engaged, and productive.

Q Congratulations on the achievement! Could you take us through the highs and lows of your winning strategy – how important is it for the organisation to have the strategy recognised this year?

We are honoured to be awarded the Best COVID-19 Response (silver). This is a great acknowledgement of the courage and resilience that each of our employees have shown during this pandemic.

Since 2020, FEH has offered our hotels to be converted into government facilities to support the country’s fight against COVID-19, providing more than 2,600 rooms during the critical part of the pandemic. We were the first to support and today as many are back to business, we are still joining hands with the Ministry of Health for the potential next wave. We strive to enliven our role as the Singapore Hotel Company, and therefore, this award is a wonderful recognition that we are on the right path.

During the last two years, frontliners in the hotel industry have made great sacrifices in both their professional and personal lives while carrying out their duties as front liners. This Employee Experience Award has added a sweet note to our appreciation for our employees who stood by for and with the company in responding to COVID-19.

Q Understanding and meeting your employees’ needs and expectations is never an easy feat. How did the organisation identify the business & employee needs, and craft the perfect solution? 

Our key business priorities were to:

  1. Retain employment for all employees, and
  2. Protect employees working in facilities.

Separately, our top priority was to ensure every employee is meaningfully engaged. While news media were splashing headlines on employees losing their jobs, many were concerned about their livelihood, and mental wellness peaked. However, our employees at FEH were assured and showered with amongst others, such as:

  • care kits including vitamins, mask, sanitisers
  • mental wellness virtual sessions
  • coping mechanisms to COVID-19 and its situation
  • annual increment and promotions
  • virtual training

On that note, with every announcement of COVID-19 in the news, our employees are provided with a clear picture of the situation through our internal communication channel. FEH has a daily publication, a vehicle we use to share the ever-changing government advisories, in a bite-size, contextualised manner for our employees. Communications through messaging, media learning, role-play, and on-the-job training were the important factors that helped us in engaging and demonstrating to our employees our care for their safety.

Q How did the strategy add to the overall employee experience in your organisation, in terms of ROI, when it came to fruition? Share with us the benefits of having such a strategy in place.

Employees have always been our number one priority.

Our workplace culture cultivates trust and excellence - where we work, play, and excel together. Our employees are equipped with the right skills, adequate tools, and enhanced learning.

With that in mind, employees are navigated by our culture, 'acts of grace' – which comprises 11 attributes – a shared language which enabled FEH to excel during crisis management. These attributes are ingrained in our employees and guide how we interact and treat our internal and external customers. It cultivated a positive work environment, which is critical during a crisis. As well, our strategy to focus on employees was spot-on based on the results of our employee engagement scores. The positive results encouraged our management team, as it could be far worst, in view of the outcry of mental issues and great resignation befalling industries with frontliners.

Q Could you offer some recommendations to your peers across industries – what advice or lessons would you have to guide them into implementing something similar for their own EX foundation? 

'Transfer of learning' is important. Even as we operate as a government facility, we applied our 'acts of grace' to personalise our service, amidst restrictions. We learned all safety protocols, applied to every touchpoint throughout the facility to make the stay for those under our care pleasant, comfortable, and safe.

Further, agility is important throughout the pandemic. Everchanging advisories, alerts, and measures often shared last minute by agencies, it is a challenge to cascade to operations. But with excellent teamwork, open minds, and agility in place, employees were able to quickly adapt and operate seamlessly.

Last but not least, 'employees first'.

"Take care of your people and they will take care of the rest." The saying is true, and trust was built, bonds strengthened. Genuine care and a hands-on approach had supported the psychological and emotional wellbeing of our employees, and they have delivered!

Q If you were to reflect, what is one thing you would do differently in executing this strategy? 

We wouldn’t do anything differently. However, we would continue to improve and emphasise two key points: agility and anticipation.

For agility, we have seen how COVID-19 has caused many disruptions and introduced many changes to our lives. It is not foreign and in fact, a reality that businesses and their people need to work faster and smarter to accomplish more in less time. Having this skill allows us to identify problems/issues and be quick in resolving real-time obstacles. True agility means being prepared with different solutions for each scenario, and we need to achieve that.

And being prepared leads to the other power skill set in the workplace, which is anticipation. It is a competitive advantage as we would offer more value than our competitors. When we can anticipate and be ahead of industry trends and needs, we gain an edge, thus allowing us to thrive.

Q Looking ahead, how is the organisation going to take this winning strategy higher and further in the coming years? Give us a sneak peek into your upcoming plans to grow the overall employee experience. 

We have seen from this experience that having FEH stay focused on people is an area that we will not only need to maintain, but enhance. We are looking at more proactive ways to not only develop our employees’ physical wellbeing, but also other aspects of wellbeing. It is critical that we shift our focus from just organisational issues to our employees’ experience as we prepare for a very different workforce.

Another aspect that we will deep dive into is encompassing more technology and analytics in our employee experience. That will provide us with meaningful data which allows us to perform curated and deliberate actions around wellbeing, inclusion, flexibility, and what matters to an employee. We recognise the major shift and hence would require plans that would guide with empathy, flexibility, and employees’ viewpoints to what works best for each individual and the organisation.

Q 10 years down the line, where do you see the future of HR? 

COVID-19 has accelerated all predictions of the future and we are seeing them happening now rather than 10 years later. The work landscape has evolved tremendously over the last 30 months. We are seeing blurred boundaries, functions, and spaces. HR professionals can no longer just stay on top of current HR trends and operate with the ‘now’ but they need to reposition themselves to be strategic thinkers and anticipate faster than before.

The HR function needs to be nimble enough to deal with an increasingly agile and restless workforce

This also means that there is a critical need to establish and promote a continuous learning environment, meaning knowledge acquisition and transparency across the organisation must become a part of the day-to-day operations. With the speeds of things happening and changes happening more frequently than before, employees must be able to constantly un-learn and re-learn.

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