When it was founded in 2012, food delivery company foodpanda was one of the first food delivery companies in the Asia region, with just a small team running its operations. Fast forward to today, and the firm is now operating across more than 300 cities in 12 markets including Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, with a team of over 7,500 employees across the region.
Reflecting on the company's growth, Ingo Laubender, Head of People, foodpanda, shares: "We’ve grown our business in both developing and developed markets, making it an interesting and exciting experience for the foodpanda People team!"
Its regional People team, based out of the HQ in Singapore, comprises almost 40 'pandas', as the firm calls its employees, covering all aspects of the function — from employer branding, talent acquisition, total rewards, people services and business partnering, workplace, organisation and people development, people technology and strategy, providing support and guidance on people-related matters organisation-wide.
In this exclusive interview with Priya Sunil, he talks about how he and his People team ensure synergy across its teams in different markets, why he doesn't adopt a 'typical' leadership style, and more.
Q How do you and your team ensure synergy across these markets, in terms of adapting to their own country’s culture while also adopting common traits?
foodpanda takes a hyper-local approach in each of our markets - this means that while we are able to build on our expertise and experience operating in different types of markets across Asia, we make decisions based on local market needs.
We take the same approach for the People team, where we have a strong regional team that shares guidelines and best practices with our local counterparts and implements region-wide projects like rolling out our HR systems.
For example during COVID-19, we had to work within each market’s local government policies for working from home measures. At the same time, we ensure that our stance stands firm across the board - that the health and safety of our employees should always be a top priority. We want our employees to feel safe when they come to work and continue to feel enabled and productive while working from home.
Connecting pandas across the different markets is no easy feat (especially during COVID!), and we do so with a few platforms, including our Workplace and Slack channels where we can find out more about what’s happening in the various markets, and our quarterly town hall meetings where we share business updates and highlights with our pandas. From these interactions, we can observe too that the same fun, yet driven spirit is something that all pandas share!
Q In line with that, how would you describe the overall culture at foodpanda?
Here at foodpanda, we maintain a vibrant culture and remain true to our values. We believe in surrounding ourselves with the right talent, in order to build a strong and resilient team.
We take pride in celebrating the diverse culture across our team in the Asia Pacific region. Our Pandas comprise more than 40 unique nationalities with over 20 languages spoken across the region.
More importantly, we’re all coming together to work towards a common objective of growing foodpanda to be a leading food delivery and q-commerce platform in the region, providing the best user experience for millions of customers across Asia.
Looking back at my past year at foodpanda, I am very fortunate to be working with a great team who truly cares about the company and our Pandas. We want more talented Pandas to join us!
Q You joined foodpanda at the beginning of 2020 - right before COVID-19 switched things up. How did this rapid change shift the people priorities you had set for your first 12 months with the organisation?
Technology has always been at the heart of the foodpanda business - being able to work well online and collaborate well with Pandas all over the region is crucial to our success. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we transitioned seamlessly to remote working arrangements, because much of our operations have already been online.
We invested in technology, leveraging the right teleworking and technology tools such as Google Meet, Zoom, and G-Suite for our everyday work and team collaboration. The same can also be said for our restaurant partners and riders, where we had to react quickly to provide the opportunity for them to onboard remotely and safely during COVID-19.
Q I understand work-life harmony is widely encouraged among foodpanda employees, with flexibility a key benefit. How has the recent transition to full remote working impacted this, and how are you and your team helping to tackle that?
At foodpanda, we definitely believe in work-life harmony. It’s key that our Pandas are able to strike a balance between work and personal life. In many ways, technology and remote working has blurred the line between work and home. To address this, we encourage managers and teams to agree on boundaries to protect each others’ personal time.
In addition, we have introduced various programmes and initiatives for employees, such as setting up a work-from-home online support portal, and introducing flexi-benefits. I know some teams even do virtual 'drinks' during the pandemic so people can chat freely in a casual setting with a drink in hand - it’s unconventional but it’s also innovative and very spontaneous.
Q While doing so, how have you also ensured your employees' health and wellbeing is looked after?
While we recognised that working from home brings certain benefits - and many of our employees do enjoy the added flexibility - it also has its challenges as the integration between work and personal lives is more prevalent. As remote work takes off indefinitely, we want to make sure our employees are both comfortable and productive at their homes, and be able to distinguish the line between work and home so they are better able to manage a work-life harmony.
At the start of the pandemic, we set up a work-from-home portal, that include tips on productivity, self-care, tips for parents with kids, mental wellbeing, and even sharing of nutritional recipes for our Pandas to whip up at home. For example in Singapore, we also launched our work-from-home flexi-benefits at the start of the pandemic, which includes reimbursements with a limit of S$300 to help our Pandas during the transition. The allowance allows them to make purchases of their personal home office furnishings.
We also organised a mental wellbeing week where we hosted a series of talks and workshops to create awareness about mental health, break down stigmas and provided advice on environments of psychological safety.
Our Pandas work very hard to bring the best experience to our customers, and it’s important that we take care of everyone in our foodpanda family.
Q How have your employees responded to these initiatives, and what gaps are you and your leadership team looking to address moving forward?
The responses received so far have been mostly positive, and the conversations do not stop — we are constantly discussing with our employees on how we can help them cope with changes in the work-from-home situations as we transit to a new normal.
Q On the personal front, how would you describe your leadership style?
At foodpanda, we’re about more than just food, we’re about people and experiences; sharing the last fries, splitting a sushi platter or going halves on a pizza. Apart from being a fun brand, we are always thinking of ways to create greater economic opportunities and value to our communities. My leadership style mirrors this philosophy at the workplace, where I bring a dash of colour to our meetings.
I don't have a 'typical' leadership style, I practise personalisation instead, as I recognise that every individual team member has unique strengths, different needs, and working styles. I consider myself to be a good listener — I observe and reflect a lot, so it has definitely helped me work better with my teams.
I am also a firm believer in psychological safety - in a dynamic environment where we need to react quickly to movements in the industry, we want to create a working environment where employees feel comfortable about speaking our and sharing ideas, or making mistakes and learning from it and innovate.
Q What is one crazy myth about HR you’d like to bust?
"HR always takes the company's side" — this is something that I feel strongly about, as in fact, every decision we make, we have our employees in mind.
Many HR professionals like myself are open to hearing feedback from the ground to protect the rights of individuals – this can in turn protect a company’s interests and foster a working culture that is uniquely ours. With foodpanda’s rapid expansion, it’s always important that we keep ourselves in check and that we foster a strong company culture where individuals and teams can thrive.
Q Where do you see the HR function moving in the next 3-5 years?
In recent years, HR has undergone dynamic shifts in roles and functions - this is of course further disrupted by the pandemic. I think it’s important that HR practitioners continue to stay relevant. Adaptability is an important skill that People practitioners should possess, especially in this season.
We have been increasingly driving the implementation of 'people tech', where we use digital tools to reduce high-volume repetitive work, automise processes and collect data. This allows us to pivot towards becoming a strategic function that uses insights for better decision making and to tighten the alignment of our people practices and business priorities, while keeping our pandas engaged at the same time.
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