How APAC tech leaders are leading, learning and hiring virtually during the COVID-19 lockdown.

14 May 2020

How APAC tech leaders are leading, learning and hiring virtually during the COVID-19 lockdown.

With working-from-home now the norm, how are leaders in APAC tech adapting and what’s working best for them and their people?

The theme of the second webinar organised by Odgers Berndtson for APAC HR leaders in the technology sector was “Leading through the new normal”. (See the first one here.)

Here’s a summary of the discussion, observations and insights that resulted from the online meeting.

Hiring and onboarding in a virtual world

Several technology companies had moved to WFH very early before WHO declared a pandemic or local government-mandated a partial or complete lockdown. 

Consequently, these organisations have had time to put in place new “virtual” onboarding and hiring processes led by a task force of HR, Managers and IT to ensure it went smoothly. Aside from a few logistical challenges, it was generally felt that, whilst still improving, things were going OK.

Other companies have leaders who have come from a background where remote working is part of the culture, particularly in a digitally-native organisation. For them, virtual onboarding and hiring was either nothing new or isn’t seen as a major step-change.

Furthermore, there are multiple ways to assess candidates, like online personality tests and ensuring much more granular feedback from the different stake-holders involved in the hiring process.

For most, this is not entirely new. However, the COVID-19 crisis has forced them to apply it across the company to all hires as 100% of hiring and onboarding becomes virtual. Overall flexibility, agility and adaptability are needed by all in these challenging circumstances.

Making virtual onboarding work

Workflows have been set up, using software for remote onboarding along with a check-in tool which is utilised to ensure candidate engagement.

In-house recruiters have started to use new and different ways to engage the talent pools in a more personal touch. For example, setting up webinars called “Ask me anything” to stay connected with potential candidates.

A big challenge for onboarding is the logistical headache of getting equipment like laptops to new starters. Using personal equipment as an interim measure also presents an IT challenge to ensure that candidates can use their own devices to access the company’s internal system without breaching policies and control.

There have been broader challenges due to the lockdown across the region. Start days have been delayed due to the slow release of work permits or equipment needed by employees not able to be delivered. BYOD and coordinating with IT has offset some of this.

For the new hires, after they have accepted the roles but before starting, HR ensures that the managers/leaders are heavily involved in the onboarding process. This includes organising video calls during the pre-onboard phase to introduce the key stakeholders.

Regular communication from the CEO/Senior Executives ensures that they remain visible and steady the nerves as the new starters come on board.

Finally, providing a variety of communication tools and channels to the new recruits makes for easier integration into the new position.   

Measuring performance in the virtual work-place

When it comes to measuring performance remotely, some companies are still working on this. Others are starting to measure output over input as the changed situation makes the time spent at one’s screen less relevant in the WFH context.

One company CEO has clearly communicated to his employees to be kinder and more conscious of people’s situation. It is a “human-first” agenda. In addition, the message was that there would be no layoffs this year to take the worry and stress away from employees.

Another CEO shared how an organisation has stepped up and formulated a policy that shows it genuinely cares by doing away with performance management for the next six months.

Other companies have regular town halls being carried out to provide clarity. These are arranged sub-regionally but are more relaxed now. Even during these unprecedented times, one company continues to run its employee feedback surveys in order to understand its employees' well-being.

There was a definite consensus that companies are realising that in today’s world, they have to do better at recognising that there is a human being on the other side of the screen.

Learning during the lockdown

Learning platforms are still being used as in pre-COVID times, but now there is more concentration around peer-to-peer learning. Some have a global coaching network of one-on-one sessions with internal certified coaches. Others have sharing sessions, discussing specific topics such as “how is one dealing with social distancing, their struggles or how to tackle the task at hand.”

Releasing the pressure

There were a number of ideas that worked to build a more socially-cohesive and empathetic culture. For example, ‘no pain, no gain’ schemes – managers are doing online workout sessions with the team to break down barriers.

Virtual ‘water cooler’ sessions have been set up. Managers have an hour in their diary at different times through the week where they can be approached by anyone to have a chat about certain things or just to hang out as a group.

It’s also important that people find chill time in the evenings and do not burn out.

Encouraging people away from the screen in order to have the necessary downtime is vital as some people do not disengage and switch off.

Managing zoom/video calls, team updates, town halls etc. When does enough become too much? A question raised that has no easy answers.

Some organisations have set up teams to devise and drive well-being/socially interactive programmes.

Leading well in the virtual world

In relation to the IQ/EQ spectrum, it was said that “Social distancing amplifies people’s characteristics.” What you were before the lockdown is even more so after it.

The sociable and gregarious leaders find ways to connect with the teams. The quieter types took some to get used to the virtually-connected world.

The authenticity of leaders was another important question

Some leaders have adapted to these circumstances, but they are not changing the way they lead or interact just because the channel of communication has changed. They are being true to themselves. 

Some people enjoy video calls, others don’t. There is a human at the end of the camera and there is a need to respect individual choices and treat people as individuals. 

Not everyone wants to lead or participate in group zoom activities, such as group exercises or ‘rah rah’ sessions.

In this changed circumstance, it was felt that businesses that are too strict and rigid in policies and communication style and are unable to judge the mood of their audience will struggle. Others who were more flexible and empathetic will flourish.

And, in a final word on leadership. Leaders should be encouraged to show their vulnerability. For example, giving a glimpse that they have similar family challenges, safety fears and are suffering too is not an indication of their leadership weakness, but showing that they are human too. As is often said, we are all in this together.