No global disease outbreak since the Spanish Flu of 1918 has affected the world’s populace like the novel coronavirus disease. Up to now, societies are coping with the ongoing pandemic, with countries around the world still struggling to flatten their case numbers while keeping their economies afloat—a volatile balancing act between humanity and economy.
The Philippines is in the midst of this struggle. On June 1, after nearly three months of keeping non-essential businesses suspended in efforts to prevent the further spread of the deadly virus, the government eased much of the social and economic restrictions of the enhanced community quarantine and allowed most businesses to re-open under the general community quarantine in the National Capital Region and Cebu City—the country’s two busiest economic centers—albeit still with strict guidelines that follow rules on physical distancing and proper disinfection and personal hygiene.
Unlike the immediate cessation of activities in the workplaces when the community quarantines were announced in mid-March, the resumption of business operations and the revival of workplaces haven’t been as swift for many companies. Painstaking adjustments have had to be made in order to ensure the health and safety of workers.
Two companies that have made the most out of the adjustments have been Synchrony Global Services Philippines and Ingram Micro Philippines.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, business process outsourcing company Synchrony Global Services Philippines, a subsidiary of premier consumer financial services company Synchrony, the largest issuer of private label credit cards in the United States with over 50 million card members, employed 3,000 employees onsite in its Manila and Cebu offices.
When the community quarantines were enforced, Synchrony’s senior management team wasted no time securing hotel rooms for its employees within walking distance from their sites, so that people could come to work.
Financial stipends, transportation and daily meals were offered for employees. In order to be business as usual, 1,000 work-at-home kits were deployed in Manila, while 500 were deployed in Cebu. These included computers, headsets, monitors, cables and prepaid Internet router.
Synchrony’s workplace has radically changed. According to CEO Michael Zolin, employees continue working from home, and would do so until at least Sept. 7, 2020.
“We have enforced a strict lockdown of our sites. Employees are not allowed to enter the premises unless given approved lockdown access. Employees are asked to report local travels to the HR team. We also have set up a COVID hotline so employees can report symptoms for monitoring and assistance,” he said.
Synchrony has also accepted the fact that, until an effective vaccine is developed and made universally accessible, it would have to deal with COVID-19 on its own corporate strengths—via technology and its well-coordinated tech-savvy people.
“We launched Synchrony 360 early this month and we use this to help support our total well-being. It has many resources to help our employees navigate everyday life, whether through parenting, homeschooling, physical activity, virtual teams or building relationships,” he said.
“The Synchrony Foundation has donated $1.5 million to provide financial assistance and relief to our Synchrony team members in need through our new Synchrony Employee Assistance Fund. This program is designed to help employees address hardships experienced from Coronavirus and other personal matters,” Zolin said.
As for returning back to their offices, Zolin said the global business group is still working out the specifics.
“We have in process a Return to Office steering committee to facilitate better the eventual return of our employees to our sites. This is a global initiative being piloted in two of our US sites to finalize our social distancing and in-office protocols. We’re reconfiguring our physical workspace to spread out teams who must be in the office, going beyond social distancing guidance. We increased cleaning of our sites, deployed additional hand sanitizers throughout our spaces [including shuttle services], promoted proper handwashing techniques, and employed temperature scanning. We continue to be in compliance with local and government regulations for community categories and advisories of DOLE in returning to the office.”
For Ingram Micro’s Manila Global Business Services Center, which represents Ingram Micro’s global cloud, mobility, technology lifecycle, supply chain and technology solutions businesses in the Philippines, the business continuity plan to keep its 2,400 employees working has been tempered by the priority to keep them safe from the deadly virus, resulting in 90 percent of its employees having been able to continue working from home.
Now, with quarantine restrictions easing, Ingram Micro is taking deliberate steps to enter into the “new normal” with as little hitches as possible.
Director for Human Resources Sam White envisions a “hybrid work arrangement”, where some will eventually work in the office, others will continue to work from home. “This arrangement will continue to impact the way they work, learn, connect with peers, manage teams, and deliver results.”
This new work arrangement, White adds, would “decrease social interaction and proximities, and introduce interim changes such as temperature check, mandatory wearing of mask, sanitation, closing of meeting rooms and training rooms, visual markers for distancing, limiting occupancy in the bathroom, lobbies and other common areas. Physical meetings, trainings, events, and recruiting processes will continue to be done in a virtual set-up until we reach the period that it’s safe to do otherwise.”
Gina, a customer service representative from Synchrony said she managed to make working from home work—with a lot of help from the office.
“We were provided with equipment. There were times when I couldn’t work because of power outages, but other than that, everything was working well. I am grateful this opportunity was given to me because it eliminated my daily commute, and meant additional savings for me. I also get to eat lunch together with my family. I also find myself more productive. One thing I realized from this experience is that I’ve found myself developing the skill of looking for my own answers and becoming more proactive, thus making me more independent,” she said.
Ingram Micro’s software developer, Migs, who says he’s no stranger to the WFH concept in his line of work, was still awestruck by the intensity of the changes made on worksites across the world.
“It’s still amazing to think that a virus and a couple of months of quarantine can jumpstart a paradigm shift in the industry. We should all be getting ourselves ready for the new normal—and proving that we can actually live sustainable work-lives during a lockdown might be a great place to start,” Migs said.
The WFH setup, however, brings with it new concerns, specifically revolving around how both parties—the employer and employee—can trust that each would be doing their part when “no one is watching”.
Zolin said that Synchrony “has transformed its employee engagement into a virtual experience to keep up with the employees’ needs for communication and manager interaction. We continue to foster a feeling of inclusiveness by leveraging on technology and different collaboration tools.”
He said the company has always been about family. “We have always treated our employees as family, embodying the Synchrony Value of Caring. And how we are before is how we are still today. We give importance to employee feedback, ensuring that our employees are part of the conversation. Aside from getting insights from the Great Place To Work Pulse Survey, we continuously conduct various roundtables to get feedback and suggestions from our employees, and work our action plans around these inputs,” he said.
“We leverage on various communication channels to guarantee that employees are updated with our business decisions. This helps us promote transparency, thus encouraging a high-trust culture in our organization,” he said.
Ingram Micro executive director Vigor Amador Jr. also acknowledges that the success of the WFH setup “is built on trust between the management and the employees.” That’s why even before its employees began to set up their workspaces at home, Ingram Micro was already a step ahead.
“While we were planning for the WFH transition, our associates came to us with ideas on how to enable the new work arrangement, providing us solutions on how they can deliver better results for our customers while they work within the safety of their homes. With trust and empowerment, our associates have actively played a pivotal role in the success of the transition to the new normal without impacting the overall customer and employee experience which they continue to deliver to the best of their abilities,” Amador said.
As what these two companies have shown, this key workplace success trait—trust—seems to be immune to even a deadly global pandemic.
Synchrony and Ingram Micro were awarded on May 1 by Great Place To Work Philippines as among the five Best Workplaces in the Philippines in 2020. Visit www.greatplacetowork.com for more information.