Business In The Time Of Corona
Singapore Business Review|April-Jun 2020
The global pandemic has forced most of the world into circuit-breaking lockdowns, Singapore’s business leaders reveal how they responded and how firms are coping with it.

It’s a whole new world out there in 2020, and a whole new Singapore business environment. The continuing growth and new investments of 2019 are no longer top of mind for most of the city and its economy. That mantle has been taken by the new severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which causes the highly dangerous coronavirus disease, or COVID-19.

In 2020, Singaporeans have found themselves focused on facemasks, handwashing, and social distancing as they work to “flatten the curve” of infection across the city-state.

Singapore is handling the pandemic well, at least comparative to many other countries and markets. Still, the country has recently adopted an unprecedented “circuit breaking” set of movement restrictions for the four weeks from 7 April, including the closure of the vast majority of workplaces.

“Instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now to preempt escalating infections,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on April 3. “We will therefore impose significantly stricter measures (to) help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring.”

Businesses across the economy are naturally being caught up in the nationwide response, with the nature of those impacts being wide and varied. Clearly, airlines, hospitality, and retail businesses have each suffered a huge drop in demand as customers choose, or are forced to stay away – and there have been thousands of jobs lost in these sectors. Even the most optimistic forecasts see those numbers growing even further in the months ahead.

Other sectors are facing issues around getting workers to the places they need to be, and ensuring their health and safety in this new regime of avoiding human contact and close interaction. Many technology and office-based businesses have been forced to move to work from home arrangements for the majority of their remaining Staff.

Meanwhile, essential service providers, including hospitals and healthcare providers, transport and logistics firms, and even supermarkets are all making do with the resources they have available to them in the best possible way.

View from the top

Singapore Business Review spoke to 16 prominent business leaders, from a broad range of sectors operating in the Singapore market. We asked each about how their organisations had fared over the tumultuous first quarter of 2020, and the specific challenges being faced as well as the solutions being developed.

Their responses show a strong level of resilience across the business community here. For some, it has been the chance to test out some business continuity processes developed for this very situation.

Michael Page

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your company’s operations?

Across the APAC region we have seen an impact in almost all markets but at different times. In recent weeks we have seen impacts increase in Hong Kong and Singapore along with Japan, India and our other offices in Southeast Asia. There is certainly an impact in the level of hiring activity and in the willingness of clients and candidates to make decisions. There is still considerable recruitment activity and in certain sectors we have seen a surge in hiring. These areas include healthcare and pharma, technology and a variety of digital segments.

What changes have you had to make with regards to Staffing numbers and working arrangements?

We have not made any material changes to Staffing numbers in Asia, however we have had to adapt to considerable differences in working arrangements. During February, we have had a large percentage of our people operating from home some or all of the time. This has not been without its challenges but overall we have managed to be more productive than we had anticipated.

What measures have you implemented to help your customers amidst these trying times?

As much useful communication as possible. This has been through phone calls and social media one on one and through broader communication. The nature of our business means that we are able to quickly understand how a wide variety of companies and people are dealing with the situation and we have endeavoured to share this feedback as much as we can. The companies and candidates we work with have been and continue to be hungry for such information.

What has been the immediate effect on your business from a revenue and cost standpoint?

We have endeavoured to eliminate non-essential costs and clearly travel has reduced significantly. Any investments we make are focussed on Page people as well as our clients and candidates. These are challenging times but that does not mean we cannot make client and candidate engagement as well as the development of our own employees the key priorities.

Robert Walters

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your company’s operations?

Fortunately, Robert Walters is a fully digital and mobile business. As such, we are able to work from anywhere, including home, and our operations are continuing as normal. However, COVID-19 is impacting our clients and their hiring appetite, which is having a knock on effect for our business.

What changes have you had to make with regards to Staffing numbers and working arrangements?

We have implemented full work-from-home arrangements for our entire Singapore office. Over the past few years, we’ve been implementing technologies to help our employees become more mobile and these has helped us easily transition to full work-from-home arrangements in this challenging period. We have made no changes to Staffing levels.

What measures have you implemented to help your customers amidst these trying times?

We have helped facilitate the move of our clients’ and onboarding processes online. For example, we help to conduct and coordinate online interviews. We have also been working with our clients to assist any employee of theirs who may be retrenched, not only with their job search but also upskilling in terms of improving interview skills, access to understanding areas of demand, improving their LinkedIn profile and others.

What has been the immediate effect on your business from a revenue and cost standpoint?

To date there has been no immediate effect, however we are expecting a challenging Q2 in revenue terms. We are also expecting cost savings through working from home rather than operating a full CBD office.

Could you share with us your future plans amidst this pandemic?

We will continue to monitor the situation carefully and adjust our business strategy accordingly. In these tough times, our priority is to protect the jobs of our employees and we will do everything in our power to achieve this aim.

Deliveroo

Exclusive statement from a spokesperson:

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your company’s operations and what has been the immediate effect on your business from a revenue and cost standpoint?

In February, March and April, Deliveroo saw an average of 20% increase in orders compared to the weeks before. However, as there are other ongoing marketing campaigns, the COVID-19 situation may not be the sole factor contributing to the increase in orders.

We have seen over 700 new restaurants join the platform since late January, allowing more restaurants to be able to extend their sales through delivery. Since 1 March, there has been a 50% jump in the number of restaurant sign-ups, compared to the previous month.

What changes have you had to make with regards to Staffing numbers and working arrangements?

Deliveroo saw an 80% increase in rider applications in the past month (w/c is 16 March) compared to a normal week. We are always prepared for delivery demands thanks to our rider supply team. The team uses data analytics to match supply and demand, ensuring that we have the right number of riders on the road in the right place at any one time.

Many private firms, including restaurants, have also increased measures like registration and requiring temperaturetaking of all visitors and delivery personnel to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Riders are also able to make orders contact-less by letting customers know through the app before they arrive. If a rider does feel an area is high risk, and they wish to not to deliver, they can request to cancel any booked deliveries without penalty. We’ve also recommended to them to not complete deliveries should they feel unwell.

Could you share with us your future plans amidst this pandemic?

We’re using our delivery-only expertise to help guide restaurants as they make the transition from dine-in to delivery-only outlets. We have developed bespoke online marketing tools for restaurants to let customers know they have delivery services, established teams of people across the business to onboard and support restaurants who want to be able to deliver and developed our app to introduce ‘contact-free delivery’.

Jetstar Asia

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your company’s operations?

Jetstar Asia made the decision to temporarily suspend all services for an initial period of three weeks, from 23 March to at least 15 April 2020. If border measures remain, we can expect the majority of our services to be suspended in line with these.

This represents the temporary grounding of all Jetstar Asia’s 18 A320 aircraft.

What changes have you had to make with regards to Staffing numbers and working arrangements?

We have been working with MOF, PSD and CAAS to find temporary job opportunities offered by the public agencies and the private sector institutions.

To date, more than one-third of our crew have taken up roles with the Singapore Food Agency, National Environment Agency and Raffles Medical Group. These contract positions are for a period of one to six months and allows our crew the opportunity to work and support themselves, whilst contributing to the community. It also ensures they will be ready to return to their full-time positions when demand for air travel resumes and we are ready to restart flying.

What measures have you implemented to help your customers amidst these trying times?

For any Jetstar Asia customer affected by this suspension we will give a full refund in the form of a travel credit voucher to anyone with an existing Jetstar Asia booking for travel between 15 March and 30 April. Given our call centres are experiencing extremely high demands, the fastest and easiest way for customers to request a voucher is by visiting Manage My Booking and submitting their details online.

What has been the immediate effect on your business from a revenue and cost standpoint?

The impact of this pandemic is delivering the single biggest shock the aviation industry has ever faced.

Cost containment initiatives include salary cuts for the senior leadership team and I, as the CEO, will not be taking salary during this suspension period. To preserve cash, we have been disciplined in right sizing the capacity of our airline to match market demand, against a strong cash and capital management framework in order to sustain the business long term.

Great Eastern

Exclusive statement from a spokesperson:

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Great Eastern’s operations? What changes have you made regards to Staffing numbers and working arrangements?

Since early February, temperature screening has been implemented at our offices/customer service centres. We have also stepped up cleaning of common areas as well as providing hand sanitisers at all offices and branches. Customer-facing Staff are wearing masks, and our customer service counters are equipped with hand sanitisers and face masks. Safe distancing measures have been put in place as well. Employees and financial representatives have been strongly urged to exercise good personal hygiene practices, monitor their health closely and to promptly seek medical attention if unwell. We have put in place Work From Home (WFH) arrangements to ensure the safety and well-being of Staff.

What measures have you implemented to help your customers amidst these trying times?

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