Leaders and HR professionals from Ripple, Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore, British American Tobacco, OMRON Corporation, and groei share what they've learnt, including having a flexible and nimble culture, leading from the front, taking a step back to breathe, and more.

As we enter 2021, to help set the tone moving forward, the team at HRO interviewed about 20 HR and business leaders to put together the key people-related learnings HR and business leaders have gained from their experiences during the unprecedented year of 2020.

The first article saw leaders from Fujitsu, foodpanda, and more, shared tips such as encouraging and practising flexible work, investing in online wellness resources, rethinking the conventional ways, a shift away from the office mentality, and more. In the second one, HR leaders from Diageo, Toll Group, and more, shared their experiences, including continuing to engage employees, the importance of culture and purpose, and more.

The third part of the series has leaders from KONE Corporation, Unilever, and more, talk about leading by empathy, investing in L&D, protecting employees' safety and wellbeing, and more. While the fourth shed light on what leaders from EZ-Link, Twitter APAC, and more, have observed throughout 2020, a year marked by reinvention, resilience, and remote working.

In this final part of the series, leaders and HR professionals from Ripple, Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore, British American Tobacco, OMRON Corporation, and groei talk about having a flexible and nimble culture, leading from the front, taking a step back to breathe, and more.

Kiersten Hollars, SVP of People, Place and Communications at Ripple

2020 has undoubtedly been a year of change, big and small. This year has strengthened my conviction that openness to change is key to a resilient corporate culture.

Organisations with a flexible and nimble culture are better able to tackle unexpected changes in not only the workplace, but also in the industry. In today’s uncertain environment, being able to take decisive action to ensure both business and cultural continuity during a crisis is especially crucial.

For us at Ripple, a culture of openness to change made it possible to respond quickly and introduce new programs for employees as the pandemic unfolded. The sudden transition to remote working was an isolating experience for many. To ensure that Ripplers have the support they need even while working remotely, we introduced new physical and mental wellness initiatives.

While navigating a virtual workplace, I was reminded of the importance of celebrating each other and recognising shared achievements. Without the personal touch of face-to-face interactions, many of us felt it was important to find alternative ways to fully convey our appreciation for a job well done.

In fact, one of the ways in which we stay connected through our shared culture is through our online platform Fond, which allows employees to recognise others by sending points for displaying Ripple’s LEGGOS (Live it, Enjoy it, Get it done, Go for it, Own it, Say it) values, to celebrate success, or simply for a job well done.

As the future workplace likely transitions into a hybrid one, it is imperative that organisations put in place systems for reward and recognition internally.

This will allow a culture of appreciation to take root and grow - ultimately contributing to a stronger corporate culture.

Virendra Shelar, GM- Global Human Resources Strategy, OMRON Corporation

2020 was an unprecedented year for everyone across the globe impacting lives in different ways. Almost all organisations struggled to overcome this challenge and here is how we approached it at OMRON.

Once the pandemic started showing up in APAC and in Singapore, we had to take bold steps to ensure the safety of all our employees.

We made a few priorities including:

#1 Health and safety of our employees is our top priority: We ensured everything was done to make sure all our employees stay safe. For some aspects, there were no clear policies however we made quick decisions driven by what is right for the employees and their families.

#2 Ensure that we are 100% compliant with the law: Rules were changing every day across the 10 countries and we had to ensure that clear and precise communication went to our employees in one location.

The Corporate Communications, HR, IT and Regional Governance teams worked very closely with each other on this.

#3 We must save cost wherever possible to save jobs: Our mission was to save jobs by controlling our costs in all ways possible. The team really worked hard and because of our cost-cutting measures in many different areas (ranging from car parks, electricity to travel, etc.) we were able to maintain the salaries or our employees at the same level, give them increments and even declare a bonus.

#4 Strengthen two-way communication flow: With companies taking extreme steps to manage their costs, many of our employees got concerned about the financial health of OMRON, their jobs and the uncertain future. Hence, we started interactive and open sessions like “Hard Talk”, “Town-Hall” and “Kurumaza” (Chat in a circle, like a fireside chat) at all levels in the organisations to address tough questions about the company, jobs and what we are going to do about it.

These conversations gave me a good understanding of the ground sentiments which is proving very helpful to formulate and lead the future plans. Open, honest and interactive communication was appreciated by the employees, and we plan to continue it in 2021 too.

On a personal note, I learned that during crises, the leader has to lead from the front and make decisions based on values and principles. This has been OMRON’s driving force in the past to overcome challenges. We continue to pursue it and will do so in future also to emerge better and stronger. 

Andy Hewson, Managing Director, Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore (part of The HEINEKEN Company)

I’ve always believed that people grow the fastest when they face challenges so 2020 has uncaged our collective strength, resilience and compassion. 

With the reverberating effects of COVID-19, keeping conversations authentic and empathetic is key to keeping connected and maintaining high trust with our people, which is needed as we all learn to navigate our way through a challenging year.

The better we are at acknowledging people’s feelings and experiences, the more valued they’ll feel.

The next lesson that was amplified was the continued prioritisation of our people’s well-being. Remote working has increased feelings of isolation and fatigue so we paid closer attention to their mental health. We expressed our appreciation often and also looked out for staff who could do with more support. I firmly believe that if you take good care of your people, they will naturally take good care of the business.

Lastly, we are in the business of creating shared experiences through social interaction and the current climate is not going to stop us from bonding with our people. We continued to have a beer with them – virtually of course, and toasted to all the wonderful work that everyone has achieved together as one team!

Lee Chuen Heng, Training & Development Specialist at British American Tobacco

Adaptability, Breathability, Capability: These are my personal ABCs as I reflected how 2020 has been for myself and for my career.

Adaptability: Working From Home, adapting your bedroom into your office during lockdown has never felt so fast and quick. Organisations have to adapt quickly to safety measurements in order to remain operational.

Breathability: An interesting word in relation to how comfortable it is to breathe through under a mask.

As we adapt quickly and figure COVID-19, one must never forget to take a step back and breathe.

While we are all restricted from travelling, it time to pick a new skill and hobby to keep yourself breathing. LinkedIn Learning became a source for me to pick up new skills and apply immediately. Corporately, Welfare perks and well wishes from Leadership Team motivates us to keep on walking as we walk out of COVID-19 someday!

Capability: The ability to future-proof yourself should be on top of everyone’s mind. At the end of this chapter, some jobs may be displaced and new jobs will be formed. It is up to us to stay above the market and keep building our competency up to the next level!

Ending off with a quote by DPM Heng: "We will all emerge stronger!"

Tara Jacobsen, Program Director at groei

A global pandemic has caused employers small and large to re-think their approach to how they lead and support their people. The construct of team, culture, connection, and the way we work has changed considerably over the last 12 months.

As the Program Director at groei, I have had the opportunity to build businesses from the ground up and help them grow sustainability. As we all transition into a new way of working, a whole new set of challenges have emerged, and an imperative need for the development of new skills.

Preparing workers for the future

Some of the biggest challenges of entering this new reality is successfully moving workers out of declining industries and into new roles and ways of working. 

New skills for leaders and teams alike such as trust, collaboration, and networks are becoming imperative to prioritise when trying to manage teams online. For many years I have been teaching applied EI skills but this has become more important than ever now.

In the last 9 months, we have had to move whole workforces onto a virtual environment. It was a significant challenge, but we had no choice but to adapt – and this shows that our education programs absolutely can and should evolve to match our rapidly changing environment.

Social capital

In our businesses and communities, we understand the importance of financial capital and human capital. However, social capital doesn’t seem to have the same platform of discussion, when it is front and foremost to everything we do.

The “other capital”, or social capital, is about our need to be more human and how we connect with technology as a lens or barrier between the human-to-human to connection. It is absolutely integral to how we relate to ourselves and other people within our environments; never have the social capital muscles been flexed so much as the year 2020.

We saw leaders struggling to understand new ways of connecting with remote staff, businesses and individuals constructing frameworks around their sense of shared values and mutual respect, and even experiencing the creation new language development - such as “Zooming” someone.

In 2020, social networking, social media, and digital platforms became the new, and for some time the only medium to build this capital and community cohesion. I

n decentralised work environments, relationships are currency. We also need to support this with workforce plans, organisational structures, and strategy to underpin this new way of working.

Flexible working arrangements

Will organisations learn and leverage what has worked well in terms of flexible and virtual working, or retreat to a 'presenteeism' culture?

Several businesses we have worked with, particularly regional based businesses, have for some time allowed employees to pick their days and hours of work around what suits them and their role requirements. 

During COVID-19, those businesses that have embraced flexible working were able to continue without too much interruption; now other employers and their leaders are recognising the need to embrace the future of the workforce – flexibility.


This wraps up our series of five articles, marked as 2020 recap. Hope you enjoyed it! 

Photo / 123RF

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