Singapore — The Independent Singapore is doing a series of interviews about how the circuit breaker to prevent the spread of Covid-19 affects people all over the country, from business owners to property agents to home cooks to sales staff. We want to know how the restrictions have affected their lives, work, relationships, and what they see for the future.
Singapore Home Cooks, which started in 2013, has more than 200,000 members on Facebook. Its goal is to “to educate and provide home cooks with knowledge and fulfilment through sharing their culinary experiences”. SureClean, which offers child-safe disinfecting products and services, has been around since 2006. Meanwhile, Hermes purveyor Lux Lexicon, which has a brick-and-mortar store at The Centrepoint in Orchard Road, is now doing business online exclusively.
TISG: Since the circuit breaker, how has your job changed?
Ms Xu: Meetings were held online, I learnt how to do Facebook Live auction. Also, I’ve been unable to do live cooking demos and workshops.
Mr Tan: I’ve been working mostly on my laptop and handphone. I’m holding Zoom Meetings. But I’ve also been able to spend quality time with family.
Ms Low: Instead of conducting sales at our physical storefront, our sales function is now fully contactless and home-based. Each day, I shoot a video that showcases our products and upload it to IGTV. Sales enquiries are done through WhatsApp and delivery fulfilment done through our free White Glove services. Also, face-to-face interactions with our customers have been replaced with WhatsApp messaging and our weekly IG and FaceBook Live. And, thirdly, business meetings are now replaced with Zoom meetings.
TISG: What part does technology play in your new role?
Ms Xu: With all the online video conferencing platforms (Zoom, etc), it makes discussions easier.
Mr Tan: It’s played a massive role in helping with communications not just internally but externally to company staff and the community. Without good telecommunication technology, 100% working from home is not possible.
Ms Low: Social media and messaging platforms allow us to constantly engage and be in touch with our customers. Zoom allows us to meet face to face virtually with our staff and business partners.
TISG: What were your initial thoughts when the Government first announced the circuit breaker, and how do you feel about it now?
Ms Xu: I’ve been working from home for many years and ordering my groceries online. The only thing I’m not used to is zero physical interactions socially.
Mr Tan: It’s tough to adjust to 100% working from home, there are a lot of distractions at home, as the home setting is designed to make you relax and rest.
Ms Low: On the day of announcement we had to plan for business continuity with the loss of our physical storefront. Our immediate thoughts were to continue engaging our customers on the social media fronts through the launch of our daily IGTV, weekly IG and FB Live. We initially thought these would be intermediary efforts until the circuit breaker ends. Now, we feel that these efforts will be a permanent feature of our brand experience and we will most definitely continue these efforts post-circuit breaker.
TISG: What have been your biggest challenges in the adjustments you’ve had to make with your job?
Ms Xu: I need to work around the CB regulations to facilitate projects and minimise physical contact. For example, live streaming of cooking shows are conducted without my team. Internet reception is another challenge to ensure smooth streaming.
Mr Tan: The biggest challenge is communicating with each other remotely via different channels. Sometimes, not everything can be conveyed over the video conferencing, some hands-on is still required. Also we have to adjust our expectations on the productivity of the staff, and even my own, because of distractions at home (i.e. I have a 10-month-old son who constantly wants my attention, which often takes time away from my work.)
Ms Low: Getting older team members to work with the new technologies and overcoming my personal aversion to being on camera for the IGTV and IG Live have been my biggest challenges.
TISG: Do you think any aspects of your work will have changed permanently from this point on?
Ms Xu: I have always operated Singapore Home Cooks online and nothing will change. However, we’ll resume live cooking demonstrations and hold workshops when the pandemic has settled down.
Mr Tan: We have to accept the fact that remote working or flexible working arrangements are here to stay either in a small or major way. Covid-19 has forced us to change work in a major way. Moving forward, we are looking into ensuring flexible work arrangements and more serious business continuity plans (BCP).
Ms Low: Absolutely. Zoom meetings offer more productive use of time and unless physical contact is necessary, all business meetings should move online. And, we received so much positive feedback for our online engagements with our customers that we will make these new changes a permanent feature of our customers’ brand experience with LuxLexicon and LuxCollate.
TISG: How has the circuit breaker affected your clients so far?
Ms Xu: The circuit breaker has not affected my clients as my services fall under necessities. However, it has presented new business opportunities for us like selling groceries online to the community.
Mr Tan: Our sales staff visit our clients much less, all are telecommunicating with them instead of taking orders and arranging services. We, as disinfection specialists, understand above all how germs are being spread, and that proper personal hygiene and a good hygiene workspace protocol are the most important factors to ensure cross infection does not happen.
Ms Low: Understandably, buyers are more prudent in their spending, which may spell trouble for luxury retailers like us. On the other hand, since we are a consignment business, people may be more willing to sell their luxury handbags they have sitting at home in return for ready cash when times are bad. Many are making use of the time they have at home now to declutter. So we expect a fresh flow of inventory post-circuit breaker and this is definitely healthy for our business. New inventories always mean more sales opportunities for any consignment platforms.
TISG: As a professional, do you have any advice to the public during the circuit breaker period?
Ms Xu: Minimise going out and buy everything online if possible. Have only one family member go out to run errands or do marketing. This is good for contact tracing.
Mr Tan: We concur with the Singapore Government’s initiatives. Stay at home and maintain good personal hygiene even when you are at home. Go out only when absolutely necessary. Wear your mask constantly when you’re outdoors and when you are sick. Also wear your mask indoors to prevent spreading any virus to your family members and practise safe distancing, especially if you have extremely young family members as their immune systems are not fully developed, or the elderly with you, as their immune system is weak or compromised.
Ms Low: The flattening of the Covid-19 curve predicates on everyone staying home so I hope we can all do just that and restrict our movements and not leave our house unless for essential needs like food, medical care and exercise only.
TISG: Can you share any instances where the spirit of SGUnited shone during this period?
Ms Xu: I have seen many posts in our support group (SHC Clubhouse & SHC Xtra) sharing updated information where to buy groceries, mask or sanitizers. There were also many posts encouraging fellow members during this period.
Mr Tan: Sureclean has always been doing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) on a regular basis. During this unfortunate outbreak we are also doing our part in contributing back to society by working with a NGO to donate daily necessities and face masks to more than 330 elder homes in the poorer estates.
Ms Low: Our customers have been very supportive and understanding during this difficult period. We’ve received many kind words of encouragement.
TISG: If the circuit breaker lasts longer than expected, do you think you will be able to move your work online/virtually for an extended period and what changes will you do to make it possible?
Ms Xu: The circuit breaker has seen an increasing interest in live streaming, so it may change the way we conduct cooking shows.
Mr Tan: As we speak, the circuit breaker has been extended for another month, and we support this wholeheartedly. With the extended CB period, our office will continue to operate 100% from home for all executive-level staff. Our main objective is to maintain constant communications with all our staff via video communications to ensure that their well-being, their family’s well-being, and the customers’ well-being are taken care of.
Ms Low: Moving luxury retail online will be an uphill task, given the high ticket value of our merchandise. Online sales cannot replace the touch and feel as well as personal interaction that shoppers expect for high-end luxury items. /TISG