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Surviving a pandemic
Finding strength in unity

As the nation continues to find ways to curb the spread of COVID-19, we wanted to take a look inside our local businesses to find out what goes on behind the scenes – how are businesses coping today? What are the changes that businesses have made in order to survive a pandemic?

Most importantly, what’s next for businesses?

Here, we speak to Mr Neo Kah Kiat, PBM,  Chairman of Neo Group Limited and the Workforce Advancement Federation on how he has managed to sustain his business, not just amidst the pandemic, but how to continue to grow when this blows over.

Swift and Immediate Measure

The first advice was that regardless of crisis, businesses must always ensure sufficient cashflow to tide through any difficult times. This allows the business to ride through the storm while assessing the added measures that a business might be required to take.

“Stay lean, minimise any unnecessary expenses and relook at resource allocation” was Mr Neo’s next advice to businesses. This way you can optimise your business resources and continue to create a productive workforce, even when this storm tides over. As a leader, it is important to react quickly, stay calm and continue to envision and focus on your business’ long term goals. This prevents one from making any rash decisions that may impact the business negatively in the long run. Mr Neo also encourages business owners to take this time to reflect on the initial aspirations of the business by asking “What was the initial vision for the business when it first started?”. For some companies, there may have been decisions in the past to venture into non-related businesses for growth. Business owners should now, evaluate these past decisions and think about the possibility of divesting in order to steer the business back on course.

With this current crisis, Neo Group’s catering team quickly convened to brainstorm on plans moving forward and exercising flexibility by coming up with new product offerings for its customers. The group started to offer mini party sets, daily bento meals, buffet food in bento packaging, and eventually mini party sets for 4-5 people within a short span of 3-days from the initial implementation of social distancing measures. The Group has also since, adjusted its operations to cater to 24-hour shifts for the preparation of dormitory meals to meet different demands of the Circuit Breaker.

Besides looking into its product offerings, the team also looked into ways where they could further tap on technology to increase the speed and efficiency of their ordering process. Online ordering and payment were made available in 2019 to ensure they could meet the demands of the customers and at the same time help ease the administrative load off its staff. This turned out to be very helpful as the demands for the dormitory meals were high and staff had to work from home or be on staggered shifts to adhere to the implemented Circuit Breaker measures.

Taking Care of your People

In these times, not only do business leaders worry, employees too, are fearful of what lies ahead of their careers. Therefore, it is important to keep all employees updated and ensure transparency of the company’s plans in handling the crisis. Uncertainty amongst the employees can lead to confusion and low morale and Mr Neo strongly believes in the need to maintain a culture built on positive mindset and attitude despite difficult times.

At Neo Group, a BCP team was specially set up to evaluate and review implementation plans each week. Through the weekly meetings, the team was constantly kept in the loop of the company’s directions and were also able to review implementation, realign business goals and address any urgent matters. On top of that, Mr Neo also communicated with all Business Unit heads personally to keep them abreast of the company’s plans. This helps them remain positive, motivated and it forms a camaraderie amongst the employees when all had to work together to meet the increased demands for dormitory meals.

“Be kind and sensitive when communicating messages (to employees)” added Mr Neo. Empathy, clarity and frequency of communication helps prevent any misinterpretation of information that cascades down the organisation. It also creates a culture where open communication is welcomed and employees are aware that they can speak to their HODs, HR or management staff of any concerns they may have.

The Group also saw the period of downtime as an opportunity to build a stronger team by exploring relevant courses to upskill its employees. This way, the company can emerge stronger when once the crisis tides over. With a variety of WSQ certified virtual courses made available to companies during the Circuit Breaker, the employees of Neo Group were further trained on skills that spanned across Digital Transformation, Service Excellence, Leadership & People Management, and Safety and Security.

Staying Open. Staying Connected.

As businesses slow down for some and come to a complete halt for others, Mr Neo also saw this as an opportunity to relook at an organisation’s existing business model and resources required. Retail shopfronts, for example, could think of ways to consolidate their outlets to prevent exhausting available resources and relook at expansion again when the economy starts to grow.

“Business owners can transform and create new business opportunity or they can keep the company lean by re-allocating and re-evaluating the present resources and departments.”

On top of that, it is also important to keep an open mind so that one can find new ways of doing things and reinventing one’s business model. Many times, the first thing companies do is to look for funds through investors to survive a crisis. Instead of doing so, Mr Neo urges companies to reach out to the SME community and look for ways to collaborate and forge strategic partnerships as there are a lot of new opportunities to be discovered. A collaboration and partnership forged today could value-add to the company in the long run.

This can be clearly seen in the F&B sector where traditional hawkers have created a network and strong community presence on social media for marketing and awareness. Standalone bubble tea shops have also collaborated with other essential F&B providers to ensure they can continue to operate. These are strategies and reinvention that have come out of this crisis and Mr Neo urges all businesses to do the same – “Be creative and innovate. New opportunities are awaiting your discovery.”

Credit: Neo Group Limited