A Dialogue with Head of HR: How Human Resources Tackle Business Disruption

It is safe to say that the outbreak of COVID-19 has thrown human resources operations into disarray. Back in January as companies in Greater China were preparing to resume business after the Chinese New Year break, they were thrust into a two-pronged challenge: safeguarding employees’ health against the novel coronavirus while maintaining business continuity. And there was no playbook that they could follow. HR heads around the region have since then helped to operationalize health protection precautions and facilitate employees to work from home efficiently.

Margaret Chen, Vice President of SAP Greater China, spearheads an HR operation supporting about 6,000 employees. From the onset of the outbreak, she has been orchestrating SAP’s HR responses as part of the regional coronavirus taskforce in Greater China. Here are some of her insights.


Q: This is a troubling time for HR heads. What is on their minds these days?  

One of the top HR priorities is to help employees manage stress since they are all troubled by the virus outbreak in various degrees. On the one hand, they have to ensure wellness for themselves and their family while on the other, they are trying to do their jobs from home and to continue contributing to their companies’ operations. On top of that, schools are partially suspended in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which means that a considerable portion of our employees has to juggle two tasks at home – working from home and parenting at home. 


Q: Working from home requires a different mindset and everyone is adapting. How should managers help their teams cope with this?

In these trying times, we encourage our managers to be pragmatically understanding. We ask them to be in close digital contact with their teams, communicate regularly while assigning tasks while keeping business and community realities in mind. As a technology company, SAP can operate remotely and we are asking our staff to look after themselves while supporting customers without disruption. Our customers’ success is the lifeblood of our business continuity. We must strike a balance between our employees’ physical and mental health as well as our operational health.

To specifically help our employees manage stress, we have conducted two webinars with mental health experts for our employees and their families. They were advised to acknowledge the stress they are under, articulate their concerns to their line managers and ask for help when necessary. SAP is supporting staff around the region with a host of work-related and mental health-related assistance.  


Q: Business continuity is obviously mission-critical now. How can HR heads help? 

Most companies are learning to put their best foot forward, to institutionalize working from home. Besides making sure our employees have access to the right digital tools to keep working remotely, we have to gauge how effective it is from our employees’ point of view. We’ve carried out a survey of about 60 of our software development managers and the majority of them feel that their teams are working very well from home. From the survey results, we’ve generated further actionable insights to strengthen employee experience at this critical time. 

Capturing employee experience and taking appropriate actions are crucial for companies. Staff are the heart of any companies’ operations and so they have to make sure that they are listening to their staff, sharing consolidated results for decision-makers to analyze, formulating a holistic picture and taking the right actions. This kind of responsive operation is becoming more important as technologies continue to disrupt business. But technologies can also help us connect better with our employees. We are lucky to be able to leverage experience management platforms like Qualtrics to get the pulse of our remote workforce and align on what works best for both sides. Qualtrics recently launched a stack of solutions in a campaign called “Here to Help”. These are free solutions that enable companies to quickly assess how ready their employees are working remotely for a long period of time, provide resources and help them stay productive.


Q: What lessons can other companies draw from your experience so far?

It is important for companies to formalize and define the scope of a crisis management taskforce, tapping into the expertise from various departments. Digital tools that encourage collaboration, such as SAP Jam Collaboration are very useful for this. 

For companies with offices in different geographical locations, local teams should continuously strive to align with their headquarters. As COVID-19 spreads from one part of the world to the next, experience can be shared both ways, and back and forth. We should all learn from each other. 

The COVID-19 outbreak has also heightened a few issues that we usually take for granted. The importance of social hygiene which, as it transpires, can be implemented once a protocol is established. What is more challenging is travel restrictions, which change continuously. Technologies such as Concur TripIt, which provides consolidated flight change information that eases the pain in business travels these days. 、

In this time of uncertainty, we are opening access to technologies that can help employees, companies, communities, and governments continue to move forward.

Free access to SAP Software here: https://www.sap.com/corporate/en/company/global-health-safety.html

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