The disruption caused by the global pandemic has put the HR function in the spotlight. As companies identify ways to keep their employees safe, engaged and productive, Salesforce’s Cecily Ng talks about how the company is thinking about workforce priorities, skill gaps and the new normal.
1. Companies are already talking about the post-COVID business scenario. What should the workforce priorities of companies reflect even as they navigate the pandemic?
At Salesforce, we think about this crisis in three distinct phases: 1) The crisis response; 2) Recovery and reopening; and 3) The new normal and a return to growth. In every phase, we’re focused on three areas: the health and safety of employees, helping our customers navigate this crisis, and supporting our communities around the world.
Singapore is currently in Phase 2 — recovery and reopening — and we have pivoted our company quickly to help our customers manage through this unprecedented time. For this second phase, we launched Work.com - a set of solutions and resources to help businesses and communities reopen and recover safely and responsibly. During this phase, your employees’ health and safety must take precedence and priority.
We cannot emphasise enough the importance of keeping your employees safe and well - the mental well-being and safety of your employees needs to be a business priority. This is a great time to start focusing on cultivating mindfulness and making it an integral part of your culture if this is not a regular staple. Leaders in this new normal need to lead with empathy and that means, focusing on the well-being of others (employees, customers and community).
As we approach phase 3 businesses must gear up for the path to growth. In order to build agility and resilience in this new normal, businesses need to embrace and adopt digital initiatives and cloud technology to power their business in order to meet the needs of their customers’ expectations. We have seen that companies who were already using cloud technologies were agile and able to pivot quickly amidst disruption. For example, UnionBank of the Philippines launched off-site "command and control centres" for its digital systems a few weeks before lockdown – allowing non-frontline staff to quickly work from home. As a result, UnionBank has been able to reach out to its customers across omni-channels using Service Cloud, as well as monitor customer sentiment through Social Studio. And with enhanced features on its app, customers can now open bank accounts right from home – a new and timely offering by UnionBank.
2. What's been the biggest challenge areas for your organization and those companies that you work with throughout this time?
To start, our cloud-enabled workforce is very agile and it wasn’t difficult when we announced in late March that all employees in Singapore had to work from home. Our technology also ensures business continuity for our customers and an extremely valuable service during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. Our relentless focus on customer success meant that we are invested in their success and now, our focus has been to help and support our customers in accelerating their digitisation and transformation so they can build their resilience.
We know that this pandemic has demonstrated that every business and organisation needs to embrace digital as the future of work is an all-digital, work-from-anywhere environment. The companies that turn to digital technologies have been successful during COVID-19. For instance, Singapore Global Network (a division of Economic Development Board) was able to handle large volumes of requests from overseas Singaporeans who had to return home as the pandemic hit Asia in February - thanks to Salesforce Service Cloud, their tiny team of 5 was able to scale their efforts during the peak of the pandemic.
3. There's been a major disruption of jobs throughout the world and especially in Asia. And it's going to take time for the market to restore back to normal, in this situation, how do you see the jobs scenario evolving over time?
Across the globe, COVID-19 has impacted jobs and the livelihoods of many. The need to retrain, reskill and upskill the workforce is now a priority for workforce across the globe. A recent Salesforce study found that 69% of people believe the pandemic will permanently change their work and 57% say they wish they had a better or more up-to-date skill set. Now more than ever, people need free access to the technologies and skills necessary to land a job in our changing workforce, regardless of where they live and what their background may be.
Salesforce believes in democratising education, and works to give an equal pathway into the tech industry with our free online learning platform, Trailhead. More than 2 million Trailblazers are learning on our platform globally and getting trained upon in-demand skills that would land them a job in the tech industry. In Singapore, our Trailhead team has partnered with Workforce Singapore, IMDA and TechSG to train mid-career professionals on the Salesforce Professional Conversion Programme and have successfully helped 30 professionals switch career to the tech and Salesforce ecosystem.
4. What are some of the major skill gaps (in Singapore and Asia) - that are also opportunity areas for both employers as well as employees?
When businesses have to shut their physical stores as the country enters a lockdown, many of them are not equipped to sell, service or market their products or services online. Digitisation has become an imperative, and adopting digital technologies remains an opportunity area for Asian companies to embrace. Leaders have had to re-imagine strategies to deliver business-wide transformation in days rather than years or months to meet demand. Skills such as empathy, critical thinking and creative problem-solving that were top skills listed by the World Economic Forum as top skills needed in 2020 and beyond for the future of work, are now more important than ever as we move into the new normal.
5. Since the pandemic has tested a number of businesses and strategies, business resilience has come into sharp focus. What is your advice to companies to recover and grow?
Being resilient is about being able to adapt and pivot quickly and running the business in a manner that can withstand fluctuating market conditions. Embracing the all-digital culture to operate from anywhere has to be an organisation’s number 1 priority if they want to thrive in the new normal. Digitisation is critical to catalyzing a global recovery. The pandemic crisis has established new ways of working and living, partly enabled by technology and it’s not a question anymore to adopt cloud solutions. It is a necessity. As a trusted digital advisor to companies all over the world, we’re here to help them create and extend the digital strategies that will ensure their long-term prosperity.
6. There's been a rethink of a number of people management processes - right from workplace experience and engagement, productivity and performance, what are some practices that will carry forward as we move to a post-COVID world?
At Salesforce, our main priority is the safety and wellbeing of our employees. We have daily well-being check-ins with our executive leadership. We’re asking employees to work with their managers to figure out an arrangement that allows every employee to take care of themselves and their families first. We also have an executive steering committee meeting regularly to determine the best ways to support our workforce, including deeper investments in wellbeing such as mental health.
As we move into the next phase of recovery and entering a new normal, our priorities for employee well-being remain the same. We also have a company-wide offering, Thriving Mind from Thrive Global, where employees can access and go through online training to build mental resilience. These best practices will continue to be available to our employees worldwide that will continue into the new normal.