Theresa Tan is currently serving as VP HR at Scoot, a Singaporean low-cost airline which is a subsidiary of the Singapore Airlines.
With over 20 years of illustrious experience across the human resources domain, Theresa has led the people strategy function for firms across industries. Theresa joined Scoot in 2011 as Head of HR, and prior to joining Scoot, she oversaw HR responsibilities for organizations in the likes of Sony, STMicroelectronics and Wieland Metals.
In conversation with People Matters and ServiceNow, Theresa talks about focussing on ‘heartware’ to drive meaningful engagement, enhancing digital capabilities, and enabling seamless cross-functional collaboration to design business solutions.
Here are highlights of the interview.
How has the renewed focus on communication, engagement, wellness and productivity impacted your employee experience strategy?
COVID-19 has severely impacted the aviation industry on multiple fronts and while Scoot had to step up its focus on navigating the company through this trying period, providing reassurance to our employees on their health and livelihoods, and keeping them motivated was more important than ever.
As with most organizations, the pandemic has catalysed how we engage with employees digitally and help them to adapt to the new ways of working. For Scoot, we had been engaging our employees digitally even before the pandemic and were hence able to seamlessly transition to remote working on platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
With a highly distributed workforce and the requirement to work from home, it is essential to provide digital platforms that allow employees to quickly access information and resources, and perform transactions anytime, anywhere.
For example, our internal communications platform – Workplace by Facebook has enabled greater connectivity and increased engagement between employees and the management.
As the lack of face-to-face interactions could result in burnouts and feelings of isolation, we refocused our strategy to deepen employee engagement through increasing the number of virtual activities like financial talks, fitness classes, wellness team-based challenges, mental health talks, etc to address different employee needs. Such social, mental, and physical well-being activities gave our employees a rejuvenated work environment to help sustain themselves in the new norm.
We constantly look to innovate and deliver better employee experiences through new tools and technology, such as chatbots that automate laborious administrative processes and raise productivity at the same time. We also conducted periodic pulse surveys to gain an understanding of how employees are adapting to the current situation and we use the survey insights to address any uncertainty or opportunity for improvement.
All our efforts have amounted to very positive feedback from our employees. We are encouraged by our recent Employee Experience Survey results, where 82% of employees felt engaged and were happy with the communications efforts implemented. Our overall engagement scores also improved by 22% from 2018 despite being a challenging year, which is 29% higher than Singapore norm!
While the focus on upping digital capabilities of employees remains a key focus, how are employers responding to the need to up the digital capabilities of internal processes and systems?
The pandemic has accelerated adoption of remote working and digital transformation globally. Employers need to be able to quickly adapt to evolving employee expectations arising from this trend. In anticipation of the aviation industry bouncing back soon, we continue to make preparations to position ourselves for recovery and cope with potential customer demands.
Scoot has always adopted a digital-first approach, and we use platforms and tools like ServiceNow, Workday and Workplace among many others. As a lean low-cost carrier, we leverage technology to streamline processes and scale our digital capabilities to future-proof our business. We conduct internal process reviews via Business Process Re-Engineering projects that also look at how we can digitalize our processes to enable employees to work more efficiently.
Scoot places a lot of focus on digitalization and the use of AI to automate manual processes, increase efficiency, and allow employees to focus on more meaningful work.
In the past few years, we focused on digitizing and automating manual processes to improve operational efficiency and ensure that the various processes complement each other.
Some projects include Finance going paper-less with invoicing systems; Ground Operations converting pilot training and assessments to electronic procedures; HR integrating employee chatbots with internal communication platforms for seamless engagements. On the customer-facing front, Scoot also introduced an inflight portal ScootHub that digitalized our entire inflight service and transaction flow, as well as launched a live chat agent service for better customer experience, among many others. These projects also allow Scoot to realize environmental sustainability gains through reducing the use of paper.
How are digital workflow solutions impacting workplace communication and efficiency, especially cross-functional communication? Can you share an example on how Scoot is enabling cross-functional team collaboration?
Telecommuting has accelerated the shift to a digital working environment, and this has contributed to a fundamental shift in the working mindsets of people, to collaborate and get things done using technology.
Different departments actively come together to design business solutions. For example, as many HR projects require new system integrations, it was crucial to work closely with our IT department. We adopted the use of JIRA, an agile project management tool to allow for greater ease of inter and cross-team collaboration. Through JIRA, we were able to set deadlines and track milestones for our many projects which certainly improved efficiency since manual efforts were cut down significantly.
What essentials must employers cater for as they crack the code for the right employee engagement strategy? What are some ways in which Scoot is engaging its workforce?
There is no one size fits all approach to an employee engagement strategy. We live in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world and organizations need to be nimble and able to adapt to what truly matters at any one point of time.
At Scoot, we place great emphasis on ‘heartware’, and that means putting employees in the centre of everything we do.
It is important to enable open channels of feedback where management and employees can have honest conversations. Understanding what employees want helps us make decisions to address their most essential needs.
We take a two-way communication approach to create a positive work environment where employees can feel connected and valued at work.
This includes having frequent engagements between management and employees. For example, our CEO without fail puts out a weekly Friday post on Workplace to give timely updates and engage with employees. We also have virtual Townhalls every quarter to provide company updates and solicit feedback and questions from the ground. Our CEO personally addresses these questions and advocates follow-up actions where required. Our senior management teams also engage with their respective departments via Connect sessions.
We also have ground-up initiatives to uplift employees’ morale and boost well-being. We launched a light-hearted series called ‘The Big Scoot’ to help employees stay abreast of the latest happenings at Scoot and connect with each other virtually through our informal videos. We rolled out corporate wellness programmes focusing on activities around mental, physical, social and financial health, and recently launched a programme called Sunshine O’Clock to give employees protected time on Friday afternoons to do what matters to them.
How can employers and leaders strengthen the ecosystem for a distributed workforce to make business agility and operational excellence a reality?
Prioritize speed and be nimble. We need to continually transform the organization by investing in the right technologies, learning the right skills to operate effectively, and having the right mindsets to help the business thrive.
In fact, the most important thing is shifting mindsets and shaping behaviours, and that starts with cultural change.
If you could offer one piece of advice for leaders in the new world of work, to improve workforce and workflow management, what would that be?
Try fast, fail fast, learn fast, change fast – and continuously listen & respond to your employees.
Things are changing and moving so quickly that we can’t always be seeking for perfection; but if we act in a nimble and agile manner to adapt along the way, we will be able to continuously make improvements as we work towards a Minimum Viable Solution (MVS) and reiterate the same process.
It is our very own employees who are at the heart of the organization and empower the workplace. Their voices are important to telling you what is working and what is not.
So, it’s about getting the right feedback at the right time – check in with your employee regularly, listen to the feedback and act promptly to address them.