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Editor’s Note: Leading in a Time of Uncertainty

By Michael Switow

As the world panics around us, it’s the responsibility of corporate and HR leaders to remain calm, allay the concerns of colleagues, and smoothly roll out business contingency plans.

The COVID-19 pandemic—though we didn’t know its scale, nor did it have an official name at the time—hit Asia about two months before Europe and the United States. Hand sanitiser, face masks, thermometers, and toilet paper flew off the shelves.

Many companies had to scramble to find supplies while also implementing new ways of working—split teams, temperature logs, remote working, and more. Rules and regulations seem to change daily, and as borders close, businesses need to continue to adapt.

As I write this, Singapore’s border with Malaysia is still open, but the head of a business association has warned companies to prepare for a possible closure. Some 300,000 Malaysians commute from neighbouring Johor every day to work in factories, restaurants, and other businesses. Most are blue-collar workers whose jobs cannot be done remotely, so companies will either need to provide local lodging or lay them off.

Businesses are also quickly learning that working remotely is not something that can just be done at a flip of a switch—at least not done well. In addition to logistical and technological challenges, loneliness can creep in. Leaders need to be conscious of their team members’ mental well-being, not simply their physical health.

In this issue of HRO Today APAC, we also take a look at gender issues in the workplace, specifically challenges faced by Japanese women who wish to return to work after stepping out to have a family. Not only are they competing with recent graduates and a male-dominated workplace, but after staying at home for several years, they often must confront a lack of professional confidence too.

An entire industry has cropped up in Japan to service this segment of the market, and we’re fortunate to chat with the founders of several companies working to help women navigate this transition.

Of course, Japan is hardly the only country where employers scoff at women’s ability to balance work and family. Mrinalini Venkatachalam, the regional director at WEConnect International and a life-long activist for gender equality, is working to challenge workplace biases and simultaneously increase supply chain diversity, an area that often receives short shrift.

As we face new challenges on what seems to be a daily basis—amidst biases that long predate the current crisis—let’s consciously take time to listen to each other, to hear our colleagues’ fears and needs, and then, together, identify the best ways ahead.

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