Leading by empathy, investing in learning and development, protecting employees' safety and wellbeing, and communicating with employees effectively, were among the learnings uncovered in this third part of our series.

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. While 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.

This third part of the series sees leaders from RedDoorz, KONE Corporation, Unilever, and Align Technology, talk about what they've learnt from the unprecedented year of 2020.


Trixie Thye, Regional Vice President – Human Resources, RedDoorz

During unprecedented circumstances, it is important to lead by empathy and be alert in recognising signs of distress of people and acknowledging the challenges that they are facing and help them embrace the new normal. We have taken practical steps of engaging with them even more during this time such as regular check-ins on remote working and ask about their life in general, provide timely communication on business directions and policies, and ensure appropriate well-being benefit and support such as tools like counselling hotline.

We also learn that openness and being transparent is key, especially in times of uncertainty. Proactively keeping the employees updated on what is happening helps keep the workforce engaged and mitigate any potential flight risk and identify any red flags.

Through actions, we could genuinely show employees that the company cares and ‘we are in this together’ to navigate through challenging times.

Minna Rouru, Area HR Director, Asia Pacific, KONE Corporation

Beyond keeping people physically protected at sites and the office, we also focused on mental and emotional health. Employee Assistant programs were implemented across Asia-Pacific, where mental health talks were organised to increase awareness on where to find information, guidance and support. Managers were also advised to check in with team members on a regular basis, and field workers were recognised to ensure everyone felt connected.

We invested heavily in learning and development during the pandemic to upskill our employees. Our training offering went digital almost overnight and we will soon launch a new Learning Landscape for employees. Having nearly tripled the completion of training compared to previous years, we’ll ensure employees feel empowered to learn and have access to the right tools and online learning to increase capability and resilience of our organisation. Raising levels of internal communications by maintaining open channels of communication facilitates better collaboration, keeps them engaged, enhances productivity most importantly, allows us to listen and respond.

As crucial as it is to ensure people stay engaged and productive, caring for employees is just as important.

I am a strong believer of the Putting People First culture! At KONE, People are in the centre of our strategy. We listen to our employees and take action based on the feedback. We value a diverse and inclusive workplace and believe that happy employees will lead to happy customers.

Tam Trang Nguyen, Global Head of HR - Unilever International, and Head of Human Resources, Unilever Asia

In 2020, it was even more so important to focus on what truly matters: our purpose of making sustainable living commonplace, and what helps our people thrive and create impact with the work that they do.

One of our biggest priority was to protect our people's safety and wellbeing. This meant rolling out certain measures such as mandatory work-from-home for office-based staff and establishing strict on-site protocols.

Together with my team, we had to figure out how to adapt to this new way of working, such as reimagining our ways of working, as well as creating new channels for effective communication and engagement. We are appreciative that many digital tools and platforms have already been well-placed here at Unilever. With incredibly strong support from the team, the work-from-home experience has been transformative in the way we think and do.

For instance, we explored new ways to deliver training, onboarding and cross-department collaboration virtually. We hosted our annual recruitment event: One Amazing Week virtually, presenting a series of live talks, #AskMeAnything sessions and career workshops for students to gain first-hand insights and connect with our Unilever leaders. The response from the students has been extremely positive, allowing us to gain a deeper understanding of today's fresh graduates.

People with Purpose thrive, and to reinforce our workplace culture, we kickstarted our Appreciation Month for the employees through a series of insightful virtual sharing sessions. We raised awareness on important topics such as World Mental Health and Diversity & Inclusion, and encouraged our employees to bring their whole selves (and families!) to work during our Family Day and Yoga Laughter classes.

My personal belief: People comes first. Take care of your people and they will take care of the business.

Julie Tay, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Align Technology

Effective employee communication during a crisis

With employees working remotely during a crisis, communication can prove to be challenging. We had constant touchpoints across the organisations, from weekly global and APAC leadership team check-ins to having monthly Town Halls with all APAC employees. With these scheduled check-ins, I was able to connect frequently with my leadership team to see what is going on and what needs to be done depending on the stages of recovery in each market.

We also conducted a Pulse survey with our employees during the crisis to gather feedback and understand the most pressing concerns. Overall, the feedback was positive, and employees appreciated that we were checking in with them.

It is key to have a two-way communication during the uncertain time to connect, engage and enable our employees. Most importantly, is to lead from the heart, to let employees know that they are our top priority especially during a crisis.

How to keep morale high during challenging times

I think first and foremost, we need to enable our employees to not be afraid to make mistakes.

We need to have the mindset that if we fall, we’re going to fall forward. This helps to maintain employee morale by not giving them the added pressure especially amidst the trying times that we are facing.

We also ensured that we promoted Employee Assistance Program support for our employees, as well as organising virtual events for our employees to connect with one another, even when they were working remotely.

Across the regions, our teams organised activities such as Virtual Trivial, Virtual Happy Hour and even Virtual cooking. This provides employees with a way to connect and support one another during a stressful and challenging time. I believe that with the blurring of work boundaries associated with working remotely, it is important to ensure that our employees take time out given the potential for burnout.

How companies can balance the need for face-to-face interaction and flexible work arrangements

Many of us have embraced the arrangement of being able to work from home given the flexibility and convenience that it allows for. However, it is important to strike a balance between flexibility and the need for face to face interaction.

Human interaction is a key element in helping us to motivate, connect and collaborate.

I think with this flexible work arrangement, it can be easy to overlook the importance of face-to-face interaction and so that is something we need to be mindful of in the new normal.


Over the next two weeks, we will be sharing more of these learnings in our series of five articles, marked as 2020 recap. 

Photo / 123RF

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