By Michael Switow
As the world panics around us, itâs the responsibility of corporate and HR leaders toÂ remain calm, allay the concerns of colleagues, and smoothly roll out business contingencyÂ plans.
The COVID-19 pandemicâthough we didnât know its scale, nor did it have an officialÂ name at the timeâhit Asia about two months before Europe and the United States. HandÂ sanitiser, face masks, thermometers, and toilet paper flew off the shelves.
Many companies had to scramble to find supplies while also implementing new waysÂ of workingâsplit teams, temperature logs, remote working, and more. Rules andÂ regulations seem to change daily, and as borders close, businesses need to continue toÂ adapt.
As I write this, Singaporeâs border with Malaysia is still open, but the head of aÂ business association has warned companies to prepare for a possible closure. SomeÂ 300,000 Malaysians commute from neighbouring Johor every day to work in factories,Â restaurants, and other businesses. Most are blue-collar workers whose jobs cannot beÂ 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 canÂ just be done at a flip of a switchâat least not done well. In addition to logistical andÂ technological challenges, loneliness can creep in. Leaders need to be conscious of theirÂ team membersâ 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,Â specifically challenges faced by Japanese women who wish to return to work afterÂ stepping out to have a family. Not only are they competing with recent graduates and aÂ male-dominated workplace, but after staying at home for several years, they often mustÂ confront a lack of professional confidence too.
An entire industry has cropped up in Japan to service this segment of the market, andÂ weâre fortunate to chat with the founders of several companies working to help womenÂ navigate this transition.
Of course, Japan is hardly the only country where employers scoff at womenâs ability toÂ balance work and family. Mrinalini Venkatachalam, the regional director at WEConnectÂ International and a life-long activist for gender equality, is working to challengeÂ workplace biases and simultaneously increase supply chain diversity, an area that oftenÂ receives short shrift.
As we face new challenges on what seems to be a daily basisâamidst biases that longÂ predate the current crisisâletâs consciously take time to listen to each other, to hear ourÂ colleaguesâ fears and needs, and then, together, identify the best ways ahead.