Why upskilling must be a priority today, not in the future

April 2020
By Indra Dhanu Dipak, Director, People and Organisation, PwC Malaysia

Humanity is the story of agility and resilience. These traits drive us to achieve great heights. They push us to do all we can to overcome adversity. It’s how we, as a society, have come this far, surviving even the bleakest of times. 

The spread of COVID-19 is a concern the world is grappling with. Apart from its impact on our health, the virus is posing unprecedented challenges to businesses and economies worldwide. In these times of uncertainty, the need to be agile and resilient has never been more urgent.

Adapting fast to unexpected situations 

The past few weeks have seen nations around the world imposing lockdowns in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Malaysia was no exception, with our prevention measures arriving in the form of a Movement Control Order (MCO), initiated last month. The MCO meant every single person in Malaysia (save for frontliners and those in essential services) are required to #StayHomeStaySafe. This was an absolutely necessary move to help flatten the curve. But it meant that suddenly, every employee who’s been used to carrying out their jobs in their respective places of work now has to work from home. 

Working remotely is not a new concept. At PwC Malaysia, for example, we have a policy that allows employees to work from outside the office (including our clients’ premises) should the need arise. While we have been able to do so, we recognise that not every business can operate this way due to their industry and the nature of their work. These industries, for which, working from home is not an alternative they can turn to, will no doubt have their own sets of challenges to overcome. And for those who can, remote working may still be unfamiliar territory, one that requires a period of adjustment. 

Based on my personal journey, and the interactions I’ve had with clients who have been working remotely over the course of the MCO, these are my observations about what organisations can do to respond to some of the challenges we’re facing in these unsettling times. 

  1. Increase business agility

    The pandemic has, and continues to make its impact felt, disrupting supply chains, cash flows, and business operations, and forcing change upon workforce arrangements. From what I’ve seen, organisations that were able to make immediate changes to their operating model, struggled far less than those who were not agile enough. For instance, a client made the call to ramp up its manufacturing facility in Malaysia when cases in China were on the rise. Some exercised foresight by reassessing their financial positioning, in order to prepare for the long haul. A constant assessment of existing strategies based on up-to-date developments may seem daunting to start from the drawing board, but it is an approach that businesses need to consider adopting for the sake of long-term sustainability. 

  2. Communicate frequently and with empathy

    Shifting from one mode to another may not always come easy. What eases the shift, is frequent and clear communication - its importance we see elevated during the MCO, where everyone has to be physically apart. Throughout the MCO, my team and I have been making it a habit to catch up with each other via calls. The objective of some of the calls is of course to discuss important matters relating to projects we’re working on, and on some days, for informal coaching sessions. But these aren’t the only reasons. With news about COVID-19 cases understandably raising anxiety levels, it’s also a matter of simply checking in on each other, to provide assurance that “all will be well”. 

    To me, this was a good reminder that for an agile culture to gain footing, coming together as a team and understanding the perspectives of each member should never be left out of the equation, as it bolsters resilience, and ultimately leads to greater teamwork. And teamwork is certainly needed as we continue to work towards delivering value for our clients amid the ongoing crisis. It goes without saying that the same level of attention is also being paid to our clients, who we touch base with regularly to ensure they remain well supported. In fact, by the second week of the MCO, these calls became routine, setting a cadence in our new ‘normal’. 

  3. Be digitally prepared

    Many of us can agree that the future is digital, and organisations need to prepare by investing in the right technologies and ensuring their people are upskilled to use them. It’s the only way one can truly be agile in our present age. As the world continues to practice social distancing as a measure to control the COVID-19 outbreak, the importance of being digitally ready has never been more apparent. I know a few clients who responded fast by purchasing licenses for video conferencing tools overnight, which allowed them to carry on with their work while staying connected with their teams and stakeholders - a move made by many worldwide, I’m certain. What the MCO has put into focus, is that digital tools enable us to keep progressing even in the face of challenging circumstances. Communication and collaboration did not have to take a back seat, despite being confined to our homes. 

    Of course, technology itself can present challenges, and I experienced a small one myself when trying to organise a virtual meeting with a client during the MCO. With a little bit of resilience, however, we were able to figure out a solution quickly. Moving forward, it’s hard to see things going back to business as usual. A key takeaway I’ve gathered from this experience is that technology paired with the right skills and mindset will become the key divider between those who will be empowered to achieve their objectives, and those who won’t. Organisations and individuals will need to be agile to adopt a digital mindset, and upskill themselves to make a difference.

    I should add that being digitally ready has helped many of us thus far, but I also recognise that for some industries (especially those whose employees are unable to carry out their duties unless at their respective workplaces), it will take more than the implementation of technology to help them get through this challenging time.   

  4. Lead by putting people first

    Oftentimes, agility and resilience can be taught by example, which is where leaders have a fundamental role to play. A recent event that comes to mind is how our leadership team showed resilience in facing the COVID-19 crisis head on. The situation was monitored closely and updates were shared firmwide where required. This carried on throughout the duration of the MCO, where even a virtual townhall was organised. 

    At the heart of these communications was the clear message that our health and safety come first, and I was reminded that though we are physically isolated, we are never alone. Leading a team of my own, I know I have the power to influence our team culture and to build members up to become strong, resilient individuals who practice care and empathy. And I’m aware it’s especially crucial for leaders to step up to the plate in times of uncertainty.  

In conclusion

It’s hard to imagine us pulling through the past few weeks without the presence of agility and resilience, and this is precisely why these skills need to be nurtured with equal care. Post-MCO, organisations will continue to deal with the impact of COVID-19, the challenge of which will require all Malaysians to remain strong and persevere. Our world may have been further changed, but I am hopeful that we will come out of this stronger. We are - all of us - more agile and resilient than we know. 


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Indra Dhanu Dipak

Indra Dhanu Dipak

Director, People & Organisation, PwC Malaysia

Tel: +60 (3) 2173 1104

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