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Insights

An Issue in Asia, A Crisis for the Western World?

I recently had the pleasure of engaging in virtual discussions with corporate affairs leaders in both Singapore and Hong Kong, reflecting on the global challenges of COVID-19, which began as what could be described as “an issue in Asia” that has escalated to a “crisis in the west”.

There was an overwhelming sense among the leaders in the region that despite “extreme uncertainty” in the current climate, they had felt somewhat prepared to tackle the challenges, having lived through SARS and the Asia financial crises.

There was agreement that as leaders, a core component of their role today has been coaching the geographies less prepared and behind Asia around COVID-19. Particularly around the importance of clarity on, and communication of key priorities, to supports efforts in leadership direction. And furthermore, the importance of communications consistency across a variety of audiences – employees; the communities in which the business and employees operate; and suppliers, shareholders and investors.

For instance, if  we look at the global travel industry, the World Travel & Tourism Council suggests 75 million jobs are at immediate risk globally and is predicting that in 2020 alone, the travel and tourism GDP loss to the world economy would be a staggering US$2.1 trillion.

Organisations working in this sector in Asia, like all sectors, have had to rapidly respond to the challenges and introduce prompt new measures to effectively support employees, travellers and partners. One example shared in our discussion was the enhancement of self-service options and the development of new automated ways for travellers to manage their bookings.

There was consensus among the leaders that the ongoing challenges presented an opportunity to better shape workload and ways of working in the future, through a different emphasis on leadership and collaboration. One of the greatest opportunities our leaders in Asia could foresee is enabling greater workplace flexibility.

Interestingly, we spoke about the notion of this experience forcing action and having a positive impact on speed and innovation, including creativity within businesses. Our standard ways of working most certainly no longer apply!

Many of the leaders believe that a key component to recovery efforts globally must be the existence of Purpose and a will to support society – which means greater collaboration between businesses, unions and governments for the right balance of antidote. One example offered by a leader included companies keeping their staff on payroll but volunteering in other sectors such as grocery chains (stocking up shelves), food delivery, manning helplines etc. as a sign of the will to collaborate effectively and keep society grounded. While there is a cost to business in this context, there is still a positive cost-benefit to society and the ability to have a license to operate.

On a similar note, some argued that we need to talk more about emotional and mental health and provide the appropriate resources, and tools to better support employees and their familes.

For the majority of the leaders, the focus now has been shifting their minds to “what does the future look like?” firstly, in how they work and communicate with one another and secondly, in an economic context. For instance, we’ve learnt through working from home that video conferencing is much more efficient than it was just a few years ago. What impact could this alone have on both the way we work and those businesses aligned to the corporate travel industry?

Several leaders expressed their belief that we are in fact IN that future now.

There are many learnings to follow from China’s, and eventually the rest of the world’s, ongoing recovery efforts. Here in Australia we will continue to lean on our corporate affairs peers in Asia to navigate the ongoing complexities for individuals and business. I look forward to sharing more insights from our further discussions over the coming months.

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