Towards the end of January 2020, our China office was the first to feel the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. New cases were being reported every day in Wuhan while employees planned their annual holiday. As they proceeded with their holiday plans, the crisis intensified and our teams in Shanghai and Beijing had to move to a work-from-home arrangement at short notice. In less than six weeks, COVID-19 was threatening people and business continuity in our locations across the globe, including South Korea, Japan, the US, the UK, Denmark, Singapore, and India.
It is an unprecedented event which one can never be too prepared for. But a collective effort at CACTUS, timely decisions, and some exceptional measures outlined below helped us ensure the safety of our teams and equipped us to continue business as usual and serve our clients.
Role of country heads and local HR
Country heads in each location had an eye on the situation and took proactive measures of morally preparing the team and moving to telecommuting, much before local governments made it a mandate. In Seoul, Tokyo, and London, complete lockdown was never announced, but we proactively moved our teams to work from home to minimize anxiety and ensure their safety. In Mumbai, which houses around 60% of our workforce, we started work-from-home pilots almost two weeks before lockdown was announced.
Intranet as communication channel
We created a dedicated section on the office intranet, which hosted all relevant information about COVID-19, updates from across the world, and the latest advisories from credible sources like the WHO and CDC. This ensured that people had one official channel they could refer to for credible information, keep away from fake news and negative campaigns, and get regular tips from the organization on how they should equip themselves to deal with this crisis. It also served as a discussion forum where people could share ideas/suggestions, ask questions, and support each other.
Role played by senior leaders
Throughout this crisis, our CEO and senior leaders have been engaging our teams through blog posts and video messages on the intranet. A global advisory—including status updates from each location, tips on personal safety, work-from-home tools, and support mechanisms—is shared daily. Since this crisis unfolded in China, South Korea, and Japan before it hit other locations, we got to learn a lot from their experience.
Role of HR
A crisis management team within HR, specifically created for this purpose, is spearheading measures; this involves tracking the latest developments, its impact on our offices and teams in each country, collaborating with internal stakeholders, driving communication, anticipating issues, reaching decisions, and providing solutions.
The engagement team within HR shares curated content: tips to work from home; online resources for physical exercise, nutrition tips, and managing children; recipes for quick meals; and quiz and contests to keep people engaged and connected.
In addition, CACTUS’s Learning & Development team has made mindfulness articles, videos, and webinars available to help people address anxiety and stress, as well as skill-building courses which people can access to spend time productively over the weekends. Separately, resources for managers to engage with and manage their teams remotely are also being shared.
Safety and wellbeing
Our IT team piloted a global work-from-home scenario much before a lockdown was called for in different countries. In India, the IT team collected intelligence at an individual level and provided backup to each employee. This ensured that people could continue to work and remain connected with colleagues.
Role of frontline leaders
Our frontline leaders have played an exemplary role in making sure the morale of their teams remains unaffected. They have implemented creative ideas like including family members in icebreakers, introducing children and pets to team members in meetings, playing online games with teams, and even watching movies together to strengthen the feeling of optimism and togetherness.
With most of our employees still operating from home and the threat of infection at bay, we have shifted our focus to their mental wellbeing. Managers have been encouraged to check in with their team members more frequently than before and flag any signs of distress.
At CACTUS, this crisis has brought to life our core values of integrity, trust, and communication and united us as an organization. I am confident we will only emerge stronger at the end of it.