With a third of the world’s population currently on lockdown due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), I cannot help but think back to the weeks and months before the global health crisis became our new reality.

In January 2020, for example, my family and I travelled to Peru in South America. Aside from exploring a country we’d never been to before, we wanted to visit Machu Picchu, the 15th-century Inca citadel that sits on a 2,430-metre mountain ledge in Urubamba Valley. What we didn’t know at the time was that the trip would prove to be our last family vacation in a long time — but more on that later.

As I write this, it’s both surreal and concerning to see the rest of the world still grappling with this global health crisis, while businesses in China slowly but steadily come back online. It’s been a challenging journey so I’d like to give all of you an update on some of the learnings along the way.

Living in the new normal

While nobody is being complacent, life in China is finally beginning returning to normal. Our offices here too are rebounding with recruitment activities improving in the past month,  and if China’s latest General Manufacturing PMI — a recovery from a record low of 40.3 in February to 50.1 in March — is of any indication, more stability is hopefully around the corner.

The silver lining to this ordeal is the opportunity to learn new skills in a unique environment. So for my colleagues and counterparts in other parts of the world, I’d like to share them in the hope that it helps your recovery process too.

Communication is key

You can never go wrong with transparency and clear, concise communication with the team. In fact, it was and still is much better in this situation to over-communicate, and have very regular contact between leaders and consultants, just to ensure everyone is on the same page and keep up that regular interaction that is missed thorough working from home. Our approach has been to touch base with the teams twice a day, as well as to conduct initially daily and now weekly leadership calls. Aside from the opportunity to let off some steam, it was a great way to share ideas on how we can hit the ground running when things return to normal.

Support networks are critical

Even as businesses struggle to make ends meet, it is important to realise that people too are having a difficult time. Aside from the sudden change in our daily routines, the pandemic became a constant hum of anxiety beneath the surface. Many have family pressures that we were not aware of, and these are magnified in this difficult period. Being at home with the family made me realise that and it is important to check in regularly on one another – to see how everyone is doing both at home and at work. And even though the situation in China is mostly back to normal, I still check in with people now as those pressures still exist.

Remote working can work well, but with a catch

For years, people have been talking about the possibility of remote working, but the pandemic provided a unique opportunity to test drive the concept. While it worked for many people within PageGroup, others bemoaned the loss of their daily routines or even the simple presence of their colleagues. Buying lunch became an entire expedition.

One thing’s for sure: remote working is here to stay. Now that companies have experienced what it’s like and what can be done, it will be more commonplace than before. As such, we need to figure out how we can integrate it into our future operations. That said, remote coaching has proven to be trickier than we thought, and more training has to be conducted to make it more effective.

Technology will save the day

Maintaining connection with colleagues has, at least on a personal level, been a smooth transition. Yet the same cannot be said about clients and candidates. Indeed, despite the rise of video conferencing clients through WeChat or Teams, it remains a challenge to provide our full services and support for all clients and candidates, solely over the internet. Whilst the technology is there, humans still need to be comfortable using it. Adaptation takes time, and some will take longer than others. But the sooner we further embrace and drive technology in recruitment, the faster we can adapt to the new norm.

Business opportunities will come up

Though many parts of China are still reeling from the impact of the pandemic, we are already seeing specific sectors on the rise. Contracting, Healthcare and Digitalisation are areas that have seen good momentum, and we have since engaged new clients to work with in the road ahead. As such, when it is your turn to recover — and it’s not a matter of if but when — it is critical to really identify the sectors that are most likely to experience the fastest rebound. It may not be the areas you expect.

A difficult road often leads to amazing destinations

The COVID-19 pandemic has so far been a huge reset button for countries around the world, and the same applies for our business. This is the time to assess our strategies and rethink how we want to move forward positively as an organisation. Are there ways that we can become even more people- and customer-focused? Can we better integrate technology into our workflow? Despite the difficult road, these are the positive outcomes — or destinations if you will — that we can all look forward to.

Speaking of difficult journeys, I want to finish by bringing your attention back to my trip to Peru. For the uninitiated, there are not many ways for visitors to reach Machu Picchu. Most tourists take a train with a bus. Failing that, as my family did, you can hike the world-famous Inca Trail. The entire trail is 42 kilometres long and takes the average hiker about three-to-four days of trekking along ancient dirt paths and spending nights in pitched tents. Since I had young children in tow, we elected to do the final one-day hike instead.

It was not an easy endeavour to say the least. First we had to take a train part of the way, followed by a six- to seven-hour hike at altitude to the citadel. But the sights and ruins along the way more than made up for it. We also had an extremely resourceful tour guide who was there at every step of the way, and when we finally passed through the Sun Gate late afternoon, at the entrance to the ancient city, we were rewarded with a view of mountains stretching to the blue horizon, peaks crowned with clouds and the ruins of Machu Picchu itself bathed in sunlight.

In short, the journey forward can be tough, and there can be a lot of uncertainties and anxieties along the way. However, after the COVID-19 episode, I’m sure we will emerge out of this a better, stronger organisation. And since this is one of the most resilient and passionate teams I’ve ever worked with, I have no doubt that at the end of all this, we too will be rewarded with a beautiful view at the end. 

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