When COVID-19 first began to spread beyond the Asia Pacific region, many multinational companies quickly turned to their APAC offices—which had met the crisis first and developed their own strategies that the global operations could learn from. People Matters asked Melanie Coate, Regional Head of Human Resources for Bloomberg in APAC, about the strategies she and her team implemented and how they later translated to global application.
Melanie joined Bloomberg in 2014 from HSBC, where she led HR for one branch of the UK operations before moving to the Asia Pacific region. Today, her team supports thousands of employees across 24 Asian markets. Here are the insights she shared.
When the crisis first began to take shape, how did the HR team's priorities change to adapt?
Our priority as a team is to enable our business to best support our customers, and that has not changed with COVID-19.
I wouldn't say that our priorities have shifted—but rather that the way we achieve them over the last few months has shifted with greater speed, intensity and focus.
Here are a few examples:
On the talent front, we have been pursuing a virtual recruitment strategy in order to engage a wide global audience of candidates who may have interest in Asia. With COVID-19, we were able to move our recruitment plans fully virtual almost immediately.
With onboarding and learning, we were already testing virtual approaches and online offerings in order to operate most efficiently and provide the most engaging experience for our people joining us outside of our 'hub' offices. We have been using fully virtual onboarding since February and continue to migrate all our wider learning/professional development offerings online rather than cancel or delay them.
Increasing support and education around mental health has been top of our people priorities for some time and this has more than ever come to the fore with remote working and the impact of COVID-19.
Over the last few months, we've been able to quickly mobilize a set of mental health resources in an effort to destigmatize the topic of mental health and coach our leaders to support their people during this time.
To support our people's work from home set up, the company provided US$500 to every employee so they can quickly settle into a virtual environment with the technology support they need.
What were the initial challenges, and how did you handle them?
One of the biggest initial challenges was supporting our people across many markets, where the landscape changed every day, sometimes every hour, seven days a week for weeks on end. Employee communications have been critical. The constantly available wave of media in all forms has led to confusion, misinformation and anxiety for our people. Our strategy from the beginning was to communicate what we know, what we are considering and what support is out there for our people, as swiftly and consistently as we can.
Our broader strategy is focused around caution with the health and safety of our people at the center of everything. In many instances and markets, this meant that we moved our business virtual ahead of our customers. This allowed us to help settle our people before their customers called on them for support in response to government restrictions on movement. We learned what worked as we went along and constantly adapted our approach to how we guided our leaders to communicate and support their people.
In the last two months, we have had to evolve our approach with sustainability being the key in the way we undertake our crisis management efforts and our people support.
The initial 'logistical' efforts to settle our people into a virtual environment with technology support involved aspects of mental health. Over time, this has significantly increased along the journey in order to continue to ensure this way of working is sustainable—whether it be the general mental health education programs we are currently running, the remote resilience sessions we partnered on with an external psychologist to aid the transition to remote working, the future-focused 'return to office' preparedness about to roll out to our Mainland China offices as they prepare to return to office-based operations, or the mental health first aid programs currently in design with our partners.
Self-care has become an imperative in our people support.
How were you, as the APAC Head of HR, able to contribute to the global HR strategy as the extent of the pandemic became clear?
We have been fortunate to have the opportunity for HR to lead the pandemic response for our company globally. This meant that strategies formed in APAC have been adapted and improved as they were adopted in our business worldwide. From the outset, we formed a global team, led out of Asia by me and supported by HR teams from all time zones. This allowed the other markets to gain experience of the challenges before it arrived on their doorstep. Our approach to employee support therefore has been truly built from Asia's experience of the pandemic and fully supported by Bloomberg's global management from the start.
What are some initiatives you've implemented here in APAC that have translated well to global operations?
Playbook—We developed an operations and people playbook which allowed the regional business leadership to make decisions via a structured framework. This playbook is now shared and adapted across all offices globally and helps determine whether we keep our offices open or closed, but ultimately it helps us keep our people safe.
Resilience training—we had already started on a journey in our Hong Kong market due to the social unrest which began in 2019, to support employees with tools and resources for them to build mental resilience. This set of training sessions, which offers practical advice for managing stress and building mental resilience, has since expanded across Asia and globally.
Most recently, we have been designing the approach for returning our employees back to office-based working on a gradual basis, depending on the risk profile of a market. The approach we are taking is phased and structured with employee well-being at the center and is supported by mental well-being offerings at each phase.
What are some ways the HR team is supporting senior leadership to manage the business challenges better?
One approach which has been effective has been building engagement through offering flexible support. From the outset, we have tailored our support to individual employees.
We haven't introduced a significant number of global HR policies around flexibility as we understand, especially right now, that what one person needs may be very different to the next.
We've empowered our leaders to open dialogues with their teams and enabled them to try to find solutions around flexibility, leave and wider remote working needs. Where they need help to arrive at a solution, we partner with them to arrive at outcomes best suited to their situation, which has included: many employees implementing flexible and reduced hours; some receiving additional paid carers leave; and accommodating individuals to work outside their primary working location to be with family who provide support not available in their country of work.
We continue to roll out initiatives designed to help people maximize their productivity and efficiencies during the period of work from home, and then to ramp back up once back in the office. We tailor the offerings to leaders and individual contributors and in doing so, create cross-functional support groups of leaders experiencing this learning together and then leveraging each other's practical implementation experiences as the environment around them continues to shift regularly.