By Bharati Jagdish
The anxiety is almost visceral but Kung Shih-Chan, Group Business Leader at PeopleSearch in Shanghai, doesn’t allude to it immediately.
Before describing the emotional toll the situation is taking on him and his team, he sheds light on the obstacles to day-to-day operations that he and his staff are facing as China grapples with the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19).
Among the PeopleSearch family, Kung and his team of about 60 are closest to the epicentre of the outbreak in Wuhan. As a start, the palpable fear has naturally triggered stringent measures.
“In one case, a staff member was quarantined for 14 days, but in the midst of this period, his roommate returned from a seriously affected area and his quarantine had to be reset. As a result, his quarantine period amounted to more than 30 days.”
Overall, the team is adopting a largely “work from home” approach and managing to serve clients seamlessly.
A TEST OF LEADERSHIP
However, as Kung describes the situation further, it is apparent that beneath the highly clinical and pragmatic measures to ensure business continuity, lies a genuine concern over how all this is affecting the team’s psyche.
“We can’t meet anyone, so we do a lot of video calls. We have lost the human touch. In some ways, I feel this has made people lose trust. Some leaders feel a loss of control and insecurity and check on their staff often. ”
But Kung advises rising above this and taking an introspective approach.
“It is a difficult period. I can only encourage them. I’ve told our business leaders it’s a challenge and test of your leadership.”
In fact, his advice has led to inspiring acts of solidarity within the team.
“We think bonding with our staff is vital, so one of our leaders does morning Wellness Exercises every day with his team via video. Another does an additional session with his team in the afternoons. They are all working to show their members that they are with them. We’re all in this together.”
ACTS OF SELFLESSNESS ACROSS BORDERS
His statement resonates across borders as it’s not just the team in China that is rallying together.
Kung mentions how personnel at headquarters in Singapore are supporting them.
“We know HQ spends time and effort to secure masks and hand sanitisers for us. Even though we all know that the economic impact of this virus could affect business, I’m aware that our bosses are prioritising our health. It helps because it makes us feel like family, not alone in the world.”
Back at HQ, Chief People Officer, HRnetGroup, Daisy Tan and her team have been working closely with staff across the board to actively secure supplies.
“Because there are needs in Singapore too, we look for sources elsewhere, in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia where we also have offices. We check for sources online regularly. We then have to ration the supplies and calibrate distribution according to needs. Our colleagues in Singapore and all our other offices have been very giving, saying that if the China office has a greater need, let’s prioritise them.”
In Singapore, the virus recently hit even closer to home with a case emerging in the building we operate from. As a result, an ecosystem of perceptible care and concern has become even more robust. Some staff members have volunteered to help colleagues with twice daily temperature checks. Others routinely send out reminders to keep workspaces clean.
BEYOND BUSINESS CONTINUITY
Group Managing Director, PeopleSearch, Lorencz Tay puts it succinctly, “If our people are not healthy, we would have no business anyway. So for me it’s simple. We must prioritise people.”
He has been making a concerted effort to check in with the teams across Asia a few times a day.
“In addition to ensuring they are in good physical health, we encourage all our people to seek and share good news to inspire each other. It helps lift their spirits in spite of the challenges.”
Group Business Leader of PeopleSearch in Singapore, Jaime Lim emphasises that while the business imperative exists, this situation has made her acutely aware of her own worldview.
“Business continuity is vital and we continue to serve our clients optimally during this period. But all this has made me think about what’s beneath the surface. Ultimately lives are at stake and if a colleague were to be personally affected by the virus, we’re not going to bemoan the fact that they can’t work for some time. We would only be concerned for their health and would want them to recover to live long lives. This crisis has made me realise how close we really are. I also admire our colleagues in China very much! They have shown a lot of strength by continuing their work and lives in spite of their apprehensions.”
AN ETHOS THAT INSPIRES GRATITUDE
In Shanghai, Kung’s strength largely comes from observing developments around him that inspire gratitude in him and his staff.
“In China, many companies, especially factories, just laid off employees when they returned to work. In contrast, our leadership has made us feel safe and trusted.”
In a particularly challenging period of uncertainty, it’s an ethos that many within the various teams are working actively to preserve.