Deborah Chew - Aug 18, 2020

Getting Teams and Organisations to Thrive in The New Reality of Work

The following article is based on a panel discussion on “Getting Teams and Organisations to Thrive in The New Reality of Work", the second of a four-part webinar on The New Reality of Work – The Impact on Employees, Teams and Organisations, organised by Emergenetics Asia Pacific and SkillsFuture Singapore and held on 12 August 2020.

People and teams are drivers of success in any organisation. Following the havoc wrecked by the global pandemic and as organisations emerge into the new reality of work, businesses realise quickly that to survive, change had to take place – and quickly too.

For start-up ShopBack, collaborating in teams at the office meant individuals could feed off each other’s energy, bounce off ideas quickly and brainstorm easily. But when the pandemic hit, all that had to change.

“We had to quickly react to the situation,” shares Alex Teo, People and Ops and Government Relations Lead at ShopBack. “There were no ready-made plans that we could refer to, so we had to draw up new plans on the fly.”

Echoing his sentiments was Brian Liu, Senior Vice President, People – Organisation and Talent Development at Lazada. “There is a common misconception that start-ups and tech companies are all digital and so should be more ready to deal with the situation. The truth is, we still have a very social profile. We are used to meeting and feeding off each other’s energies, and suddenly we find that we can’t.”

“We had to quickly update our plans and bring our focus to finding ways to work closer together when we are all working apart.”

- Lionel Ch’ng, Chief of Staff to MD
HP Inc., Greater Asia

“We had business continuity plans but not one that covered a crisis of this scale,” Lionel Ch’ng, Chief of Staff to MD of HP Inc., Greater Asia shares. “We had to quickly update our plans and bring our focus to finding ways to work closer together when we are all working apart.”

Evangeline Chua, Chief People Officer at GovTech adds, “Employee engagement dropped significantly once we started telecommuting and we knew that leadership had to remain visible to employees to keep them engaged.”

Clearly, as the pandemic hit, teams and organisations had to rethink the way they worked together. The usual way did not work anymore and new challenges on team communication and team collaboration began to surface. These, in turn, began to impact team dynamics.

Navigating the New Reality for Teams

In a survey conducted by Emergenetics APAC, 6 in 10 team leaders found themselves not knowing if their team members were communicating and collaborating effectively with one another, while 1 in 2 team members found it a challenge to collaborate effectively with others.

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Agreeing with the survey results, Liu shares, “Everything was new, and so at Lazada, we had to be intentional about enabling our people to collaborate successfully. This meant teaching them the basic skills and expectations of telecommuting. We had to equip them with the basic virtual meeting etiquette because they have not done this before.”

Similarly at ShopBack, Teo describes how a lot of education had to be put in place at the start to enable its people to succeed whilst working remotely. “We developed a playbook to guide our people on how to set up a home office, and things to take note off whilst working remotely.”

To take it a step further, ShopBack even organised virtual activities such as a virtual water cooler and DJ nights to keep its people engaged. However, Teo was quick to add, “As the months pass by, maintaining engagement with employees will be a challenge.”

At GovTech, weekly huddle sessions are organised to connect teams and across teams so as not to lose the human touch.

In larger organisations such as HP, enabling teams, encouraging collaboration and engaging employees whilst working remotely took a multi-faceted approach. Ch’ng elaborates, “While leaders reached out to employees, we also tapped on volunteer groups within the organisation to engage employees and encourage collaboration through a common cause. At the same time, we also started to pay attention to the mental wellness of our employees.”

With employees working longer hours, feeling disconnected and juggling work and home demands in the same space, indeed, employee well-being is one of the main concerns of leaders in this new reality.

Collaborating More Effectively in Teams

To help teams collaborate more effectively, businesses began to leverage technology and online collaboration platforms.

“We’ve never had to use online collaboration platforms such as Zoom before, but we quickly had to subscribe to it,” Chua shares.

But online collaboration tools on its own does not lead to effective teams.

“There has to be trust. It is a key element for telecommuting to be successful,” Chua adds.

“Online collaboration platforms are only the baseline,” Liu points out. “With the current situation, we can perhaps rethink what collaboration looks like. Instead of people coming to me to collaborate, I could decentralise, delegate and empower others to make decisions as leaders.”

"Instead of people coming to me to collaborate, I could decentralise, delegate and empower others to make decisions as leaders.”

- Brian Liu, Senior Vice President
People – Organisation and Talent Development, Lazada

Adding on to that point, Teo shares, “Collaboration is a process. Our focus should be what outcome we can get out of this process.”

Leaders too, play a key role in bringing teams together when they are able to provide a vision with clarity and provide a purpose for its people to collaborate.

“When you tie everyone to a common cause, you get a lot more collaboration,” Ch’ng shares. At HP, many virtual initiatives to help the community were kickstarted when the pandemic hit, and this saw a rise in collaboration and engagement across departments.

Adding to his point, Chua highlights, “A crisis breaks down walls to allow people to collaborate because there is a common challenge to overcome.”

But what if conflicts arise?

“In a virtual environment, you can’t just say “Let’s grab coffee and talk about it”,” Ch’ng points out. “We have to stretch ourselves a little bit more to build back the relationship.”

And this is where communication is key. At both ShopBack and Lazada, team members are trained to provide, receive and respond to feedback positively, reducing instances of conflict that may create detrimental impact on team effectiveness.

“We learn to communicate conflict in a more fact-based way,” shares Teo, who at ShopBack uses the SBIR (Situation, Behaviour, Impact, Response) framework to facilitate feedback and conversations.

“At Lazada, we equip our people with skills to give feedback well; we always say feedback is a gift,” Liu shares.

For Chua, building the relationship between team members right from the start is key. “They need to be comfortable with each other in the first place to address the conflict so that they won’t feel awkward as they sort out issues.”

Taking Care of Teams

Besides setting a vision and providing a common cause, leaders in organisations too, play a big part in ensuring a team’s success. And this simply starts by showing care.

“Show appreciation; celebrate successes,” Chua states. “Recognise the hard work they have put in.”

“Set aside time to do nothing but hangout virtually, especially for new hires,” Liu adds.

Indeed, with remote working, traditional onboarding has proven to be one of the many things that had to change quickly.

“The onboarding process is a key touchpoint and we need to develop that sense of connection right from Day 1,” Teo shares. Leveraging Donut, a plug-in on communication platform, Slack, ShopBack “engineers serendipity” virtually by pairing team members up randomly so that they can connect and create conversations.

“The onboarding process is a key touchpoint and we need to develop that sense of connection right from Day 1.”

- Alex Teo, People and Ops and Government Relations Lead
ShopBack

“Having a buddy attached to the new hire is also important to the success of onboarding in this new reality. The buddy will be able to share the team’s culture, practices and processes and check-in with the new hire,” Chua adds.

At HP, showing care is simply to listen. “Leaders have frequent sessions with their teams, broken up into smaller groups where leaders speak only for a short period of time, and then they take questions from the group. And these could be simple questions like “When can we go back to the office?”, which tells a lot about the concerns of the team,” Ch’ng shares.

Thriving as an Organisation

To thrive as an organisation in this new reality thus require people and organisational structures in place that are different from our pre-COVID days.

“Our expectations would have to evolve,” Liu points out. “We need to be agile and flexible; flexible in the way people get things done because the demarcation between work time and home time has been completely destroyed.”

“We all have different family constructs, different family permutations and different family demands. There needs to be a different level of empathy and empowerment that people will deliver work at the end of the day,” Chua states.

"There needs to be a different level of empathy and empowerment that people will deliver work at the end of the day."

- Evangeline Chua, Chief People Officer, GovTech

Agreeing, Ch’ng adds, “We need to be respectful of people. We cannot imagine all the scenarios of how our teams are working and so we need to be sensitive.”

In fact, distractions whilst working from home will be here to stay. As Chua puts it plainly, “You can’t get rid of distractions.”

However, for organisations to thrive, we can think of other ways to minimise errors caused by distractions, or to do things more efficiently. One idea is to automate.

“Over time, we can identify areas of work that we can automate to reduce risk of human error,” Teo suggests. “Not all tasks can be automated but for those that can, it can significantly help increase productivity.”

Further, organisations can begin to rethink how teams are put together to deliver outcomes.

Chua envisions an organisation where reporting structures are blurred and where it is able to tap on the whole ecosystem of its people, rather than be constrained by departments. 

“There will not be a concept of my team versus your team, but rather agile squads from different departments that form teams. And knowing the different Profiles of team members help us further understand the diversity and perspective each brings to the task force.”

“There needs to be a very agile culture,” adds Liu. “We can still have formal reporting lines to provide stability to our people but then allow for teams to self-organise into squads to achieve different objectives when projects or initiatives arise.”

However, to ensure the organisation thrives, leaders need to do more than to get teams to get jobs done or objectives met.

“We need to continue team building activities,” Ch’ng points out. “We cannot afford to lose the trust and connectedness of teams as we move into the current situation.”

“We cannot afford to lose the trust and connectedness of teams as we move into the current situation.”

- Lionel Ch’ng, Chief of Staff to MD
HP Inc., Greater Asia

As we enter the new reality of work, it is clear that the world we used to live in has changed. There is a need to chart a new path; to upskill ourselves for the future.

“We need to jump right into the new normal. We might have to make painful decisions now to soar in the future, so make investments now to be ready for the future,” Liu sums up. “We are not going backwards. This is a permanent pivot.”

The video recording for this webinar is available online. Click on this link to watch the full session.

Written by Deborah Chew