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As Singapore continues to ease its circuit breaker restriction in phases, many businesses are now preparing to resume their operations in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. According to Luca Pozzi, General Manager of global manufacturing firm Manuli Hydraulics in China and Southeast Asia, strategic staff management plays a critical role in how quickly businesses can return to pre-crisis levels of productivity.

Under Luca’s direction, Manuli Hydraulics was able to put in place timely measures that resulted in its Suzhou plant operating at 90 per cent capacity just a month after lockdown restrictions were eased in China. Detailing his learnings in the recently released Lessons from China mini-report by recruiting experts Hays, Luca shares four steps in his staff management strategy that helped Manuli swiftly return to work that could help guide other organisations to do the same.

1. Identify critical staff

The first measure Manuli took involved tracking what percentage of staff was actually able to return to work; this included identifying how many employees were stuck in other locations or under quarantine/stay home notices and verifying this with the appropriate evidence. “In the first half of February, this amounted to not more than 40% of our workforce,” shares Luca.

The next step was deciding which staff would and would not return to the physical workplace. “We decided that all sales staff would still work from home as the lack of mobility at the time made it impossible for them to meet customers or leave Suzhou. A lot of our IT and finance staff were also to continue working from home, while those in crucial services such as procurement, supply chain, human resources and EHS (Environmental Health & Safety) and had to get back immediately,” he says.

2. Create a physically and psychologically safe workplace

A priority for Luca during the lockdown in China was identifying staff sentiments towards returning to work. “The first thing I did was to gather my management team and set up separate charts to monitor staff morale. We had to make sure they not only felt comfortable with returning to work but also motivated to perform,” he says.

Interestingly, having an excellent health and safety procedure in place is what helped make this happen. “Our employees were scared to even step out of their homes; but when they realised we had very logical methods in place to stop the virus from spreading, they grew comfortable enough to come to the plant because they could see that they could work there without danger.”

“This was also a psychological lesson because anxiety stems from the fear of what you cannot control or understand – but once you realise you can really understand a problem and solve it, then the anxiety reduces. This is a very human thing.”

“What I learned and what I did was to focus on this driver and make them feel comfortable by letting them touch with their own hands and know that they could still work in safety. This played a pivotal role in ensuring everyone’s compliance and resuming normal operations quickly,” he says.

3. Have the right technology and tools

In terms of technology, Manuli’s remote working and video conferencing infrastructure, such as Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams, went miles in ensuring minimal disruption to company operations. As Luca explains, “In most parts of the company, we already had the level of technology needed to meet remote ways of working because everything today is managed more through cell phones than any online platform or laptop, desktop etc.”

What stood out as a priority to Luca was having the right tools for communication. “Having the ability to interact on a daily basis in terms of exchanging files, images, and data in total safety helped us a lot,” he shares. Companies who are currently ramping up their tech infrastructure would also benefit from considering if they have the right tools in place to ensure hybrid models of working (where some staff are in the office while the other are working remote) can be seamlessly integrated moving forward.

4. Bring other staff back progressively

With these pieces in place, Manuli progressively arranged for the rest of its staff to return and begin managing other priorities. “Before the 15th of March I had already asked my salespeople to come back as we needed to start making plans for new activity and projects,” says Luca. “Finance staff were also needed to manage issues such as payments that couldn’t get through, as well facilitating communication and interaction with sales and other departments. With this, in the space of just one month, things were able to return to normal and our results for March turned out to be even better than expected.”

Speaking on these lessons in the context of Singapore, Grant Torrens, Regional Director for Hays Singapore commented, “As businesses in Singapore prepare to resume operations under these unprecedented circumstances, Luca offers valuable advice that could help focus business priorities on the most critical aspect of regaining productivity – effectively supporting and managing their staff. By ensuring the right staff are brought back at the right time, implementing effective technology that can support future working models and having enough safety measures in place, businesses can smoothen their transition processes and bring their staff back up to speed without compromising on their safety and health.”

To download your free copy of Lessons from China, please click here. For more information and tips on working or job hunting from home or managing teams remotely, please visit our Inspire Me Remotely content hubs or sign up for Hays Thrive, a free online training portal designed to help employers and teams in Singapore grow the skills they need to function effectively and thrive in the wake of Covid-19.



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