The People Behind the Front Lines at Brunel: Asia

Thursday, April 23, 2020

In the midst of global instability, projects, companies and contractors worldwide are learning to improvise. So is Brunel. Our operations teams are working harder than ever to bring a sense of stability to the lives of our clients and contractors caught in the crossfire.

How can I go into work if I’m quarantined? Will I still get paid? Do I have to use my holiday days? What if my project gets cancelled? What happens if I contract COVID-19? Will my health insurance cover it? How can I get back to my home country with closed borders?

These questions are keeping Brunel’s global operations teams busy. But with it comes the satisfaction of helping keep their contractors safe, healthy and sane when it’s needed the most — all while helping clients keep project operations running as smoothly as possible. 

Those braving the front lines are the regional Operation Managers themselves. We’ve sat down to (virtually) hear from each of them. What we learned: Brunel doesn’t sleep until our people are taken care of.  

Jodie Tan, Asia Operations Manager: “It’s a challenging time, but consideration and collaboration will bring us further together.” 

Servicing China during the start of COVID-19, Jodie’s team quickly learned to think on their feet and improvise. Their experience dealing firsthand with the situation in China helped them deal with other regions in Asia when the virus spread in later weeks. 

“We learned from the China experience, and we adapted the same approach in other countries,” Jodie said. “It helps to have that firsthand experience. The main thing we’re focusing on is contractor care — to let the contractor know that we are here to support you."

From monitoring health statuses and travel histories to educating about symptoms and preventive measures during weekly calls, every detail is covered: “We’ve improvised along the way as the whole situation’s evolved. We provide an emergency number to call in case of illness and give them tips on how to utilize their health insurance, how to get their policy number, things like that.” 

Answering the hard questions

“When COVID-19 started in China, we started to see a lot of contractors and clients asking about medical insurance support, if they’re covered should the contractor get infected. We work closely with local health insurance partners to clarify these. Some contractors also ask about medevac, asking, ‘In this part of China, if I get sick, will I get medevaced back to my country?’”

“Some of them are being put on a sub quarantine. If they cannot go to work, of course they will have concerns about pay — whether their leave will be deducted or be hospitalization leave or sick leave — they have concerns about this, which we understand. We work very closely with the different clients depending on the policy and approach, and some clients look to us for advice.” 

“In Singapore, for example, the ministry of health offers guidance: if some employees have to be on a 14-day quarantine, they will advise the employer and contractor to come to a mutual agreement and use their hospitalization leave first, because then you have more days and are not deducting their pay. It’s a difficult time for everybody, including the clients.” 

Transparency and open communication are key

“This situation requires us to react very quickly,” she said. “Things change day-by-day, especially when it first surfaced in China. Our clients didn’t know initially the best way to approach it, but we learned that partnering very closely with open communication and transparency is actually beneficial for everybody.” 

“We can be very direct that we don't have the answer for everything, but we are exploring with the client and contractor to know what’s the best next step. People appreciate the transparency — even if we tell them we don't have the answer right now, we’re working on it and will update you. It’s all about managing expectations, and it's all about people, contractor care. This is what we learned over the last 2-3 months.” 

It’s all about compromise 

“For each case that’s surfaced, we’ve managed to reach an agreeable outcome with both the client and the contractor,” she said. “They don’t want to suffer any impact on their pay or leave entitlement — some contractors might not be willing to use any of their leave, but we also have to help them understand that this Covid situation is a difficult time for everyone; nobody wanted it, also not the clients — everyone needs to compromise a little so it’s mutually agreeable and beneficial. Some contractors might say, ‘It’s not my fault that I cannot report to work,’ so we help them understand, ‘It’s not anybody’s fault, so let’s work together.’” 

What’s been motivating or inspiring? 

“What’s really encouraging is seeing the entire team, whole department working together,” she said. “It was a lot of late nights when this first happened, trying to reach contractors via social media and phone, and doing contractor tracing to know their whereabouts — the situation is unpredictable, but it’s encouraging to see the team working together late into the night to resolve certain situations or get in touch with contractors to make sure they’re ok. This is very inspiring.” 

Turning constraints into new opportunities 

Dealing with situations such as the travel ban in China has inspired inter-department collaboration — and win-wins for both clients and candidates. “I am Operations, but right now in our sales team, some key clients have projects with critical roles to fill. Some of the roles you might not easily get locals to fill. So we're exploring the possibility of sharing current expat contractors’ CVs with other clients for new project opportunities. We can’t bring foreigners in, but the current pool of foreigners we have in the country has resulted in a collaboration between different departments, account managers and salespeople. In the past they focused on different clients, but this has inspired us to share information even more; the constraint became an opportunity.” 

Her advice for local clients and contractors in the region during this time? 

“In this time of COVID-19, consideration and collaboration are critical not just for individual success, but for group success. After this is over, it will probably make us more caring, more spiritual — after having to stay at home, we will all appreciate the freedom we’ve always taken for granted. Besides the impact it has on our personal lives, from a corporate standpoint for contractors, we understand that nobody wants to suffer any pay cuts or things like that. It’s a challenging time, but consideration and collaboration will bring us further together.”