Ensuring Employee Wellbeing during WFH, an Insight from Sukhveer Singh Ajay of foodpanda Malaysia

July 15, 20214:30 pm4463 views

No one is immune from the stress caused by the ongoing health catastrophe. With the work-from-home (WFH) initiative, the office cubicle is moved to the home. While this measure is vital to contain the spread of Covid-19 at the workplace, mental health issues are inevitable to rise as the boundary between personal and professional life blurs. The pandemic brings serious consequences to one’s psychical health, but the mental health implications – stress, fear, and uncertainty – can be equally devastating.

It is a leader’s job to protect employee wellbeing and navigate a course through extraordinary challenging times like today. HR in Asia seeks to gain insights on how leaders and organisations altogether should act to ensure employee wellbeing during WFH. Sukhveer Singh Ajay, Head of People & Culture, foodpanda Malaysia is here with us to share his thoughts on this. Check it out!

Question: Ajay, most of us have been working from home for a while now. How did you adjust to the new working arrangement? And what’s the most important lesson you have learned?

Answer: The whole working from home experience was definitely an interesting adjustment for me as I came on board barely a month before we were forced into the WFH setup. Although we institutionalised a rotational setting with limited capacity during the non-MCO periods, not being able to meet and work with the team at full force in person was definitely a new way to start a job! With the current work-from-home arrangement, we all face challenges that cut across all industries and jobs – as most if not all interactions are done virtually – unstable internet connectivity and time management issues can get in the way of our productivity. Thankfully, I was able to adapt to this new normal very quickly, and having a great team helped a lot.

At foodpanda, we implemented a WFH routine as early as the first Movement Control Order, which took place in March last year. Working from home for such a long time can definitely take its toll on one’s mental wellbeing. To counter this, we at foodpanda have periodic virtual sessions to check in on our team members individually to ensure they are doing well physically, emotionally, and mentally while still continuing to prosper and grow as a vital part of the organisation.

In addition to that, HR has added roles to play at this time to ensure all our people are functioning just as well, although they’ve had to pivot to new ways of working and adapt to new systems and schedules.

One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned over the past 15 months is the importance of creating and developing a workplace culture within the WFH setup, one which allows everyone within the organisation to thrive. Amongst the key factors at this given time is to establish or develop a mindset within everyone so that they feel empowered, engaged, and appreciated.

In brief, I believe that the show must always go on. We moved from the “have to do” to “get to do” mindset and turned all our day-to-day challenges into opportunities for the team to explore alternative ways to get the job done.

Question: Many remote workers are struggling to unplug from work. Do you find a similar issue? What did you do about it?

Answer: While working from home may have its perks, it can also present its own set of challenges. Struggling to unplug is certainly one of them. At foodpanda, we continue to do our best to understand the struggles that our employees face and work towards providing them with solutions that fit the current setting.

One of the ways we practised this is by providing our employees with more flexibility. While we provide them with opportunities to improve themselves through company-wide training sessions, we also provide them with multiple slots to allow them to accommodate these training sessions into their busy schedules.

We have also introduced an e-learning platform to enable our employees to look out for training topics of their interest from a diverse range of online learning modules. Our employees are given the flexibility to select, enroll and complete these training sessions at their own pace any time, any day. This way, employees are not pressured into completing these training sessions within a fixed time and are able to take breaks, when needed.

Not to forget, we do send out care packages to our employees during major festivities such as Ramadan, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Christmas and Deepavali to remind them to take a break from work and unwind with their loved ones. In fact, we also sent out care packages on special days such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and International Women’s Day to show appreciation to all our employees.

Question: Loneliness and self-isolation is prevalent during the pandemic. What can HR leaders do to help their team cope with these challenges?

Answer: Every company faces similar challenges with the WFH requirements , such as lesser interactions amongst the team and poor productivity but it is important for HR leaders to introduce activities and implement practices that will help motivate the team.

At foodpanda, we have worked to fix these areas along the way through effective monitoring. We believe that the fun does not have to stop and should travel beyond the four walls of our office.

Among the activities that we have introduced is the MCOlympics to keep our employees engaged and connected through fun activities and games during the lockdown period. These activities ran ever so frequently that employees were left wanting more, especially when we introduced more point-based games and activities which enabled employees to contribute towards their teams. Over time, this activity expanded and has now snowballed into a permanent initiative within the company.

Our efforts did not just stop there. We are on a constant journey of wanting to get to know our employees better and not just on a professional level. With MYPanda Got Talent, our virtual talent show, we had the opportunity to discover our employees’ talent. It also gives them a platform to shine by showcasing their talent to others.

To love the business is to know the business. Other than our regular weekly kick-offs on Mondays where we get to start our week right by tuning in to business updates from our Managing Director and welcoming our new recruits who have joined the company, we also have the #pandaPANDAI quiz to end the session on a high note.

Moreover, we also have panatomy – where we invite vertical leaders to host an online session for all employees to learn more about what they do and how their respective vertical leaders contribute towards the company’s growth. We are all part of a close-knitted ecosystem. We want our employees to know where they fit in the great big scheme of things in order for them to understand that every single thing they do means something to the company.

Question: Can you share foodpanda’s best practices in ensuring its team members’ emotional and mental well-being that other organisations can emulate?

Answer: At foodpanda, we travel the extra mile for our employees. One of our best practices includes offering assistance by helping our employees set up a conducive home work space with our leisure allowance in hopes of ensuring that they remain motivated to work from home.

In mid-March, we also launched #pandaFIT, a fitness and wellness initiative to help all employees to get fit physically and mentally on a bi-weekly basis. For this initiative, we call in experts to conduct interactive webinars and virtual group exercises for our employees, in order for them to stay fit and avoid feeling too stagnant at home. Experts would usually share their tips and tricks on keeping fit and cover workout programmes such as yoga and HIIT to get their limbs moving and out of the sedentary state that we are in most of the time.

We also promote mental health extensively through #pandaFIT by doing pulse checks and awareness campaigns across the organisation bearing a consistent message – to reduce the stigma associated with mental health.

Through this initiative, we also aim to direct our employees who are struggling with readily available resources e.g. talks, anonymous consultation, podcasts, webinars, apps, etc. Overall, #pandaFIT is our commitment in fostering a workplace culture that supports both emotional health and well-being.

Question: From your observation, are there any changes in staff’s attitude or performance before and after these activities?

Answer: Without a doubt, I was able to observe positive changes in employees’ performance after conducting these various virtual activities. Through these virtual activities that we host ever so frequently, the team has definitely gotten closer whether company-wide or within the respective teams.

Performance-wise, our employees are more motivated with their work since we started these virtual activities and they always look forward to more sessions. Most importantly based on my observation, we have all managed to achieve a greater level of work-life balance by being able to synergize our work schedules with our domestic affairs being at home most of the time.

Question: Has the MCO affected recruitment and onboarding in foodpanda? If yes, what are the solutions that your team has come up with?

Answer: Thankfully, despite the pandemic, our recruitment and onboarding process has not been affected. We are still able to carry on without any disruptions, from hosting virtual interviews, ice-breaking sessions, and getting to know the brand in-depth and how it works as a whole. This makes it easier for new employees to fit in just as effectively. We continue to remain positive and are always ready to welcome more people to join our team at foodpanda.

Question: The end of the pandemic is yet to be seen. Is there any plan to keep WFH arrangement permanent for foodpanda’s employees? Why or why not?

Answer: We have long accepted that our present state may be reflective of our new norm. The adjustments we have made since the first Movement Control Order has geared us up in most aspects possible. We do allow some flexibility for our employees to opt to work from home on predetermined days depending on one’s role. Of course, this comes with compliance and governance to ensure that business operations run smoothly, wherever our employees are working from.

Moving forward, to ensure the safety of all, we will continue to be flexible in terms of work arrangements and hopefully we can assist our country by playing our role to ensure the Covid-19 curve can flatten in the shortest time possible.

Question: Last question, what are foodpanda’s plans to become the Employer of Choice in Malaysia?

Answer: In an attempt to become the Employer of Choice in Malaysia, we are working to promote our DEI initiative – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion widely across the company. We believe that to inculcate this culture and awareness amongst our employees, we must first emulate it by diversifying our talent pool and our management team, which we have been continuously doing. Moving forward, we would also like to have the DEI campaigns and initiatives on a continuous basis to further drive this culture and awareness within the company.

Furthermore, we are an organisation that is driven by both employee engagement and employee satisfaction. We would normally conduct regular surveys with our employees to find out more about their needs and expectations before kick-starting new initiatives. While we do have plans of keeping our present initiatives running, we also do have more exciting plans in the pipeline that will be rolling out in the months to come.

About Ajay

Sukhveer Singh Ajay is a professional equipped with a thorough understanding of APAC Employment laws & policies with over 12 years experience working across different industries in SEA. He is well experienced in Human Resource management with strong and effective communication skills through which he has established strong partnerships with stakeholders across various teams and countries.

He currently heads the People & Culture division of foodpanda MY. Before joining foodpanda, he spent 5 years heading the Employee & Labor Relations division of Lazada, LEL & LEX Malaysia under the Alibaba group focusing on creating a well-designed, cohesive and fair workplace.

Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Content rights: This exclusive interview content is produced by HR in ASIA. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in this interview is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content.

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