How COVID-19 has impacted and transformed HR in Singapore

September 30, 2020

by 
David Pooi, HR Tech Advocate & HR Educator

Last week, we sat down with HR Tech Advocate & HR Educator, David Pooi, to pick his brain on his observations and insights on HR, amid the unpredictable world we're living in right now. While there were many golden nuggets in our discussion, we picked three key interesting pieces to share.

Q: Since COVID hit, what have been some trends you’re seeing among HR professionals today?

Times like now only exacerbate what we’ve always known to be true – that HR is essential. HRs are truly the agents of change when it comes to helping the workplace transform. Right now, we’re talking about two big transformations.

First, how can we encourage and support HRs to use technology to create a perfect employee experience? HRs are often thinking about how to provide a positive employee experience; whether it is to introduce new health & wellness initiatives, evaluating existing benefits, or enhancing compensation structures. Except now, they are shifting towards using HR Tech solutions to support these initiatives. Fortunately, many tech solutions are being offered for free during this pandemic period, and they really help disrupted companies which are just starting to digitise their HR functions.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have employees who are concerned about the business’ performance, which is tied to the security of their jobs. This is where employee engagement becomes even more important, and where many HR technologies come into play.

I’m seeing employees who are impacted in sectors such as Retail, Hospitality, F&B and Construction, sending employees for re-skilling, and many who have attended my workshops (like HR Mindsets & Behaviours, and Driving HR Innovations) used the opportunity to learn about sought-after skills like HR Technologies, HR Analytics and Digital Transformation. We have also seen many HR professionals, managers and executives signing up on our Specialist Diploma in Enhanced HR Skills to upskill during this time – virtually, of course.  

Q: What are some of the disruptions we’re seeing in HR and how has technology helped businesses tide through this difficult period?

Well, one thing we’re all experiencing now is the displacement of face-to-face interaction with video calls. COVID-19 has disrupted everyone, and we certainly see people Zoom-ing everywhere now, whether it is for work, for study, or simply connecting. A huge issue we’re seeing is that concerns with the mental health and wellness of employees are rising.

Employees could be having a difficult time working from home without the right support, and feeling disengaged. We’re trying to find better ways to address these issues brought along by Working from Home (WFH), and solve them effectively with technology. This could simply be checking in more often with one another using video calls, and having scheduled meetings to check in on the well-being of employees, or supplying the resources that encourage better health and wellness, such as online counselling, or fitness sessions.

Even insurance companies are keeping up with times – I have seen an insurance firm that offers WFH insurance, to help employers care for the health, safety and well-being of their employees while working from home.

Employee experience should not be compromised during these times. We may not have a soccer table at the lounge, or providing catered lunches at work, but we certainly can find alternative ways to engage our employees and keep track of work progress efficiently, using appropriate HR technologies.

Q: Will working from home still be considered an employee perk later down the road? What are the types of benefits that matter the most now?

Working from home used to be an element that helped define company culture. But with the COVID situation, it is now the new normal. We see in the surveys being done that most people are generally comfortable working from home (and here are some poll results I collected on LinkedIn). Even once it’s safe to return back to our offices, larger enterprises and MNCs will be the ones open to providing employees with the flexibility to choose where and how they want to work. In my opinion, SMEs in Singapore will need a bit more convincing. Perhaps only about 20% will be open to providing these types of arrangements, but this is only my prediction.

In terms of benefits, each organisation will need to customise their benefits to their employees’ needs and the type of culture they wish to create. Allowing employees to have a flexible benefits model can also be beneficial during this time, as it not only ensures that they have their medical benefits covered, but they can also have budget allocated for other services typically not offered by insurance, such as online counselling services, wellness perks, or fitness classes.

At Singapore Polytechnic, our School of Business actually surprised us with a fruit basket during the circuit-breaker period. It was such a warm and happy moment for our staff, knowing that we are being cared for. We also received a benefit to get an extra back support for our seats to address the lower back issues arising from prolonged sitting. We are also entitled to a one-time claim for purchases to support WFH, such as offsetting purchase of a new ergonomic chair, or other WFH resources.

When employers take that extra step and effort to boost employee engagement, employees can feel it – and all these special little gestures help in a big way to create that positive employee experience.

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