Sakshi Jawa, Chief People Officer of TIKI Corporation, shares her COVID 19 insights

TIKI Corporation is in the top two largest companies in the fiercely competitive Vietnamese ecommerce landscape.

With a population of nearly 100 million people and one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, Vietnam’s young and highly educated population has been attracting ever increasing interest from both domestic and foreign organisations looking to tap into this expanding market.

TIKI has set itself as one of the fastest growing and most innovative companies in Vietnam, offering over 10 million products nationwide, a range of logistics services and providing two-hour delivery to certain areas.

Sakshi Jawa joined TIKI in October 2018. Her role since joining has been to facilitate the rapid growth of the company and build the next generation of talent for the business.

Prior to TIKI, Sakshi held senior HR positions for a number of the world’s largest ecommerce companies, namely Coupang and Amazon, based across Asia.

Sakshi shares with Barracuda Search her experiences and reflections on the ongoing COVID 19 outbreak.

As news of the COVID 19 virus broke in Vietnam, what were the initial areas that you focused on?

We strictly and fully implemented safety regulations including wearing masks, using hand sanitizers and checking temperature. These measures also extended to:

  1. Safety regulations: wearing masks, using hand sanitizers, checking temperature (for operations team and delivery fleet); disinfectant spray at offices and FCs
  2. Working from home for thousands of back-office employees
  3. In order to ensure the productivity while working from home, we took advantage of technology to build and ensure a seamless working process (data back-up, daily update, online meetings, etc.)

We then realised we needed to answer the question of how do you make sure that discipline is being maintained? Most of our people had never worked from home and so we started rolling out some exercises, including daily activity sheets which had to be completed, in order to ensure that the work is going exactly as it needs to be going.  We also encouraged people to be on calls with their cameras on so that we could at least see each other’s faces as things were running remotely.

We kept people engaged by running some games for them. Various ideas like health sessions through social media on who does the best yoga session, click a picture of your pet while working from home, these types of contests just to keep people engaged. We also tried to roll out at least one email every week to give people some tips on working from home and encouraging work flexibility.

We recently did a survey in order to understand whether people actually like working from home and to understand from the managers if there is productivity loss. One of the top bottlenecks that came out in the survey is that people do not actually get enough face time with the managers so we would need to set clear guidance on expectations regarding this in the future. They are many things that came up in the survey which we are deciding whether to implement. Once we action these findings then we will experiment with one group, particularly the tech group which really needs to be able to function from home, and see how that goes. So that’s a work in progress.

The other challenge then came because Vietnam as a country isn’t set up for this kind of scenario. For example, even though we started working from home we could not do onboarding online for new employees because their contracts could not be digitally signed. Somebody has to physically sign the contract because it is illegal in Vietnam to give a digitally signed contract.  Our banking and our payroll also cannot be digitally signed. So these are lessons which have probably been learned by the labour centers and ministries. I am guessing they will eventually shift to a model where everything is remote but as of now I still needed to either come into the office or I needed someone to come to my house to get signatures done physically.

Lastly, we are an ecommerce business and so we need our operations team to be on the ground. We made sure that our fulfilment centers and distribution hubs were sanitised and sprayed and that our workers had daily temperature checks. At the same time we also ensured that the delivery drivers took all the safety regulations (100% wearing masks while working, regularly using hand sanitizers, mandatory temperature check before every shift), maintained a safe distance from the customers and stopped going into customer buildings when making deliveries.

You discussed there trying to maintain a healthy and productive working environment with disparate teams. Previously you have spoken of the importance of effective leadership in building such an environment within an organisation. How important have this been during the outbreak?

This have been really important over the last few weeks. Effective leadership is essential because it cascades from the top. If I don’t check in with my people they will not check in with their people.

At the start, we got all the leaders together in order to get the right strategy in place and then ensured that they were cascading this to the workforce so that everyone was clear what we are trying to achieve. From a human resource perspective I was responsible for making sure that my field leaders were doing that with their teams, because when you a running a business in this environment it is easy to lose track of the longer-term objectives and get consumed in all the day-to-day activities.

 The chats and chat groups played a very important part in achieving this. Funnily enough we were actually trying to discourage chats before this outbreak happened because a lot of momentum was being lost in that we could not trace back important information. So once this breakout happened, we segregated what was for chat and what was for email.

TIKI has an extremely strong focus on its customers. With many of population of Vietnam concerned about the safety risks of being out in public and at times with their ability to travel restricted, how has Tiki been able to continue provide services whilst being mindful of customer and colleague safety?

Safety is our first concern not just for our customers but also for our employees.

In Vietnam the COVID cases were traceable so for example if we knew that a certain area was under the radar and there were COVID cases then we automatically asked those employees, if they were operations employees, to go on leave. We put them on paid leave for the duration of their 14-day quarantine. We only let them back to work after they had completed that period and we were very careful with this.

At the same time every worker who came into our fulfilment center or who was going to deliver to the customer was supposed to wear a mask, was supposed to use the hand sanitizer and was supposed to get his or her temperature checked every time they entered or left the fulfilment center. We also educated them on minimal contact with the customer and to have distance while delivering the product.

In the office, we came back to work one month ago. During that month we encouraged people to wear mask and hand sanitise. At the same time, we have looked at special cases like people with small kids or those coming back from maternity leave and encouraged them to work from home still. We also educated the managers saying that if the employees really wanted to work from home they should encourage them to stay at home and that they don’t need to come to work.

It was important for us to advertise all of this on our website to make sure we kept our people and customers safe and informed.

What have been the greatest learnings that you have taken from this time?

 For one, a big learning has been that you need to make sure you are not just busy in your day to day job, especially if you are leading teams. Leadership is not just coming in and out of work, its not just answering all the hundreds of emails and letting business run as usual.  You need to let your team know the big picture so that when it comes to situations like this then things aren’t impacted and work keeps on going. If we just do a big picture or goal setting exercise once a year then forget about it, it is not enough. I think you need to lead your team and take everyone  together on what you are trying  to achieve and keep it going all through the year, because otherwise it just becomes an activity based exercise.

The second learning is that when employee behaviour changes, like when people switch to working from home, you may see a dip in the quality of work and you should be aware of it. In this case it was about multiple things – people were stressed, people were working from home, they had kids at home and it was hard to focus – so I should have checked in more with my team to see what challenges they were facing and ensure that I encouraged them and pushed them to seek help where needed, so that was another big thing.

The third thing was that as an HR function we were not prepared for the shutdown. It took us almost one week to react to it after it happened which we could have done sooner. So now even after it has gone, I am still assuming we may be in a situation like this again. We have started working backwards to make sure if the situation arises again, we don’t need one week of ramp up time.

Finally, we want keep our employees more engaged in terms of having a lot more fun activities to keep them in touch with our values, the basic essence of our company and our leadership principles. Our lockdown was a short period, we just saw a blip, but had it been longer as it has in other countries, it becomes very important to be able to communicate and keep what we stand for as an organisation and what values we want all our employees to exhibit.

Interview conducted by Barracuda’s Head of Hong Kong, Max Holdsworth.

June 2020