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While remote working has become commonplace worldwide, it comes with its own particular challenges. The Drum finds out what needs to be done to better engage employees and support them in adjusting to unique and uncertain work conditions.

In early February 2021, a 22-year-old employee of Chinese e-commerce company Pinduoduo collapsed and died due to exhaustion. Soon after, a young Pinduoduo worker died by suicide; the next day, a third employee was reportedly fired after criticizing Pinduoduo’s work culture. The company has since said it will offer employees psychological counselling.

Pinduoduo’s case is not unique, and a corporate culture of overworking has long existed in Asia Pacific. Dentsu Group previously created The Dentsu Working Environment Reforms Commission, an action group that aims to stamp out the issues that led to deaths partly caused by overwork at the agency.

Businesses today are under more scrutiny from staff and consumers to ensure that they care for the psychological wellbeing of workers. The problem has become more acute with the worldwide shift out of the office.

At the same time, job candidates are much more cautious and have a broader set of requirements that need to be met by prospective employers. More job-seekers are looking at the support offered by a company, as well as its infrastructure for staff development and training.

Sean Fredericks, president for Asia Pacific at electronics distributor RS Components, says the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards a digital-first economy, including the ways it engages and recruits talent.

He explains that teams at RS Components work in key markets across APAC, with some employees having a region-wide scope and others supporting customers in specific national markets. It means they are used to collaborating virtually with global teams and the same goes with potential employees through virtual hiring processes.

“Many companies faced significant disruption in 2020 and individuals who show innovative thinking and problem-solving skills, a customer-focused mindset, and agility – together with strong technology and technical skills – can be a strong asset. These are qualities that are valued by organisations these days,” explains Fredericks.

“It is also important to look beyond hiring and have a structure in place to support employee development and wellbeing. Our onboarding process is an opportunity to welcome new colleagues and set them up for future successes.”

He continues: “As we continue to follow health and distancing measures across locations, we are also launching an employee assistance programme to help employees with the changes in their personal and professional lives, by offering an opportunity to speak with a counsellor online.”

Creating an agile, diverse and inclusive workforce is also on the agenda for Marcus D’Souza, the managing director for South East Asia at programmatic shop MiQ. He notes while businesses have started taking this seriously, his concern is the consistency of their initiatives.

“At MiQ, we have ahead of diversity and inclusion. It is important to note that this is a full-time role, so this will consistently be a top agenda for our business moving forward,” he says.

“Diversity and inclusivity is a journey, rather than a destination and it takes commitment and collaboration to tackle this successfully, from every single employee. Those that do succeed, can look back in years to come and be proud of their contribution towards real change in our industry.”

Digital tools can help businesses reimagine their work culture, says Dorothy Peng, the managing director at R/GA Singapore. She has implemented processes like digital stand-ups and started using virtual whiteboards more at her agency.

She says R/GA has also made a concerted effort to ensure the camaraderie usually felt in the office space translated into its staff’s home offices and remote working.

“We launched several surveys to constantly stay aware of how our teams were doing through the transition. We let our teams bring monitors back to their home offices, and even their ergonomic office armchairs if needed! Children and pets turning up in meetings were also normalized – we are an office of many young parents after all,” she explains.

“What has been key to us though, has not just been about putting processes or tools into place, but making sure that as a team, our culture of collaboration and innovation continued through into the new working arrangement. It is about ensuring the prevalence of a culture of trust and ownership, being focused on the output that the teams drive and achieve together, and not on the time spent to get there.”

As pandemic restrictions ease, businesses like Salesforce and Citrix are looking for ways to give employees more choice in where, when, and how they work as flexible work is here to stay, says Sandeep Pal, the regional vice president for marketing in APAC and Japan at the software company.

“This will not only help companies manage resources and operations in a more dynamic way, but also strengthen their employee experience, giving them a competitive edge in recruiting, engaging, and empowering employees to do their best work,” he explains.

“This will require IT and HR to consider adapting both technology and working culture to underpin improved and more efficient ways of working.”