Wei Leng reflects on embracing new ways of working, the challenges that came with the uncertainties and her big “a-ha!” moment that led to re-emphasising the company's values.
As the end of the circuit breaker period in Singapore draws closer, some businesses – including Colliers International in Singapore – are gearing up for the gradual resumption of activities at the workplace, otherwise known as Phase 1 of a three-phased approach in transitioning to the new normal.
Managing Director Tang Wei Leng took some time with Colliers REview to reflect on embracing new ways of working, the challenges that came with the uncertainties and her big “a-ha!” moment that led to re-emphasising the company's values.
We all know remote working can be challenging. How does Colliers continue driving employee engagement and performance?
There is a direct correlation between isolation and performance; this was highlighted as a key finding in one of our recent employee surveys.
Isolation can affect one's productivity, sense of belonging, engagement and creativity, amongst others. In fact, people who are not collaborating online feel 10% less connected.
As we were readying the business to operate and work remotely, a major focus was to enable our teams to communicate freely. Fortunately, we had an existing and robust communication platform connecting every department, from HQ team members to on-site staff.
However, as time progressed and remote working continued, we felt that we still needed to seek new ways to connect, engage and entertain. We wanted to replicate our usual lively office buzz, through our online platform. With this, we created new virtual channels for everyone to stay updated and facilitated those “pantry chats” that were so precious in the office.
"If anything, the silver lining for us in this situation was that everyone was somewhat 'forced' to embrace the new ways of working, and the process was accelerated."
We currently have a robust calendar of virtual activities to engage and maintain our employees' well-being -- varying from live home cooking classes, meditation sessions and morning yoga, as well as casual catch-ups at a team level with dress themes and quizzes.
Managers have also received guidance and have been equipped on how to better engage their teams remotely, including building team morale and staying connected. As a result, 80% of our people at a local level are enjoying working from home and 85% said they have all the tools they need to do their jobs -- which is a great result!
Do you think you had to adapt your management style while managing remote teams?
One of the biggest challenges I faced besides having to ramp up some of my IT skills, was to adapt my leadership style. Like a lot of other leaders, I found myself suddenly isolated.
Change was indeed the new constant and some very important decisions needed to be made to ensure our business continuity. I quickly realised that my leadership team was still by my side, and that I should rely on them (albeit remotely) for their valuable input in making the harder decisions that most - if not all - business leaders are having to make during this time. Although we were apart, we were still very much in this together.
Did you have all the technology in place to make remote working successful? Or did you have to make some adjustments?
It is interesting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of most industries. I am proud to say that we managed to minimise the disruption of transitioning to remote working with our people, as they were already agile working.
"The purpose of the office is already changing, and workplace strategies will need to be reviewed. The office could become more alive and interesting than ever. This will be the place for in-person connection and collaboration, and there will be a heavier emphasis on employee well-being."
However, it was imperative to have everyone use our IT platforms and tools in order to stay connected. Our IT team was quick to respond to the situation, and had quickly created a platform that was solely designed to help our people navigating through their new ways of working. Training sessions and workshops were provided to ensure that our people knew how to, and could, fully utilise the tools available. This enabled everyone to continue staying in touch with their clients and to take this opportunity to further invest in relationships.
If anything, the silver lining for us in this situation was that everyone was somewhat 'forced' to embrace the new ways of working, and the process was accelerated. We are still fine-tuning some of our finance processes to encourage contactless transactions; this should be done before the end of the circuit breaker period.
Related content: How Colliers Singapore is responding to COVID-19
How are you and your team preparing for your return to the office?
Preparing for the great return is not an easy thing to do -- but it's exciting, for sure!
While our task force is working hard to make sure safe distancing measures are deployed and respected; safe areas are provided; contact tracing is happening and that hygiene standards are followed, it's hard not to think about what is next.
"We remained committed to collaboration, investing in relationships and doing what’s right for both our people and community -- values which are so important, and will continue to be."
The purpose of the office is already changing, and workplace strategies will need to be reviewed. The office could become more alive and interesting than ever. This will be the place for in-person connection and collaboration, and there will be a heavier emphasis on employee well-being.
However, we are likely to see less flexibility in the way workstations are being used due to hygiene and safe distancing limitations, and this will result in a rationalisation of the workspace itself.
Have you been witnessing a change in company culture, or have you seen this as an opportunity to re-establish and re-emphasise it?
My big "a-ha!" moment during this challenging time came when I realised that the company culture and core values have never been so important -- and they can be just as strong remotely, as when we are together.
A challenge was always going to be people engagement, especially when there are so many distractions and changes simultaneously happening in our communities. But we remained committed to collaboration, investing in relationships and doing what’s right for both our people and community -- values which are so important, and will continue to be.
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