All of us are locked down somewhere in the world.
As the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic handcuffs nations and borders, I'm serving my sentence in Melbourne. All this while, I've been receiving and exchanging stories of lockdown with friends from all over. I spoke previously with Charles Brewer, COO of Canada Post Corporation in Canada.
The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is a cumulation of stories shared with Affluent Society by its members and members of Platinum Circle.
Ronak Shah is the Chief Executive Officer for the Singapore business of QBE Insurance Group, listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. QBE Insurance (Singapore) Pte Ltd is the oldest registered Australian company, having first set up a branch there in 1891. Prior to taking on the CEO role in September 2019, he used to head the Financial, Professional and Casualty Lines business across the Emerging Markets comprising Asia Pacific and Latin America. Ronak has more than 20 years of insurance experience, having previously worked for three international insurance broking houses and a major insurance company as an underwriter in the United States and Singapore. He is the current Chairman of PLUS in Singapore and an active contributor of insurance related articles to various trade magazines.
Affluent Society (AS) spoke to him about his experience with the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore.
AS: What is the lockdown like in Singapore?
Singapore was placed under a “Circuit Breaker” to reduce the possibility and risk of COVID-19 transmission in the community. So far, I think the local population has become accustomed to it and learnt to adapt to these new measures well. The government has also been very supportive and understanding of the situation, taking extra care in keeping in touch with citizens and residents and being very transparent throughout the process.
I’ve been impressed by the resilience on display during this period. Although everyone is understandably nervous about their health, the wellbeing of their family and friends, and generally worried about the economy, the community has adjusted and made good use of the support given to them.
Singapore has moved into phase two after ending the Circuit Breaker, where most of the economy will gradually reopen and businesses are eager to return to a sense of normalcy. We are looking forward to this and are working with our employees, partners and clients to plan for new growth strategies and look at how we can transition towards newer, more efficient and creative ways of doing business in the post-pandemic economy.
AS: What challenges did you face when the lockdown started?
The major challenge I faced was time management with my virtual meetings. We have had to adapt how our teams work together and how we collaborate with our partners to ensure business continuity both for ourselves and our insureds. Meeting the evolving needs of our customers in this context has also been a key priority and, while not unexpected in this context, also proved challenging. The lack of social interaction was particularly hard for me. While I expected this, I did not fully comprehend the magnitude of what this entailed at the beginning of the lockdown.
AS: How are you coping with the lockdown?
At first, it took a bit of adjusting, especially around social isolation and distancing. It is hard not being able to meet with family and friends for an extended period. However, I found that I was able to adapt rather quickly and in fact came to understand and cope with the lockdown. My schedule is productive yet spread out through the day and speaking to colleagues and teams daily has helped deal with the lack of social interaction.
We have weekly communication updates with all staff, and also established a monthly virtual townhall to celebrate our achievements and recognise individuals who’ve performed well. We want to ensure all employees are kept updated and continue to be engaged with company initiatives and programs even as we all operate remotely, and this has helped in bridging the lack of physical interaction with colleagues.
AS: Anything positive came out of staying and working from home?
Yes, being at home for many months has allowed me to spend more time with family, getting to know my colleagues much better on a more personal basis with one-on-one calls, and generally leading a healthier lifestyle. The fact that exercise was the only outdoor physical activity permitted, I made it a point to get out as much as possible – and it has worked out well for me.
AS: What's happening to return to normalcy?
The approach by the government has been spot-on and helped allay fears among Singaporeans. We are not over the virus yet but have learnt to live with it, though this will be an evolving process. With the health and safety of our employees and their families being the priority, we have continued to function well as a business. During this period, we have built on our ability to deliver more products and expand our reach via our online platform – Qnect – and we launched an electronic dispatch solution to ensure business continuity with our partners and customers.
The way we work and live will no longer be the same as before. Whether it’s working from home or office, we will continue to leverage on the collaboration skills and tools that we have developed during this period and adopt new technology to enhance our operational efficiency. In summary, we have taken all necessary steps as guided by the government and the QBE Group in ensuring that we have the right approach to returning to the office, but in measured steps.
Next up: We speak with Mary Muthoni, about her COVID-19 lockdown experience in Africa.
The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is brought to you by the Partners of Affluent Society including Chaopraya Mahanakorn PCL. (CMC Group), a leading property developer of houses, townhouses, detached houses and condominiums in Thailand listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand.