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Staying the course during a global pandemic


Every first seven months of the year, I live and breathe sustainability reports. Financial regulators in Singapore and Indonesia set strict deadlines for our Annual and Sustainability Reports. And the reports are used by a wide range of stakeholders like banks, investors and customers to check if we’re on track with our sustainability commitments under the GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP). It’s serious stuff.

Download your copy of our Sustainability Report 2019 (SR2019) here.

Reporting and COVID-19

When I read at the end of December that there was a strange new pneumonia spreading in China, little alarm bells rang as I had lived through SARS in 2003. But even then, I had no inkling how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect every aspect of our lives. This has been particularly true of work life. Suddenly, WFH or Work from Home is part of daily vocabulary, becoming the norm rather than an irregular option.

For myself it was not as seismic a shift as it must have been for some others. I usually WFH one day a week during the reporting season since I find that being away from office distractions helps me focus better on my writing.

But the production of a Sustainability Report does not only involve writing. Nor would I be able to produce it on my own. There is a whole team involved in this massive annual project. This includes colleagues in Jakarta who’re responsible for tracking down and checking data; consultants who advise and check that we’re reporting as required against global frameworks; and designers who lay out the report and bring it to life visually.

This year, I also had to deal with a change in personnel at the design firm. The friendly, super-efficient person with whom I had built up a relationship of trust over the last four years had moved overseas. I had met the new account manager and thought we would be able to iron out any initial hiccups over lots of face-to-face meetings, coffee and pastries.

Thanks to COVID-19, we never got to have those sessions.

Latest numbers in our traceability journey– these are a fraction of the hundreds of data points collected for SR2019.

Tips for success

Yet despite the pandemic, the SR2019 entitled somewhat aptly “Staying the Course” was published on time and with relatively little fuss. Several things accounted for this somewhat painless process.

Professionalism: yes, response times were occasionally affected by circumstances beyond our control, but by and large professional conduct of everyone who worked on or contributed to the SR2019 was the key to success. We simply did not let something like a global pandemic affect our commitment to achieving the desired outcome.

Flexibility: we adapted almost seamlessly to having Zoom and other online meetings. It helped that the team in Jakarta was already used to communicating remotely with me in Singapore. And while I had some doubts about being able to really discuss the finer details of design, colour and layout online, the bi-weekly online check ins with the new account manager were focussed and efficient, and I dare say we were more productive this year with WFH than in normal years.

Leadership: part of the success is also due to leadership. Thanks to the prodding from my boss, I had already been doing many things online, including holding SR briefing webinars for stakeholders starting way back in 2016. I had initially been skeptical, but over the years have discovered that when done properly, things like webinars are immensely time and resource efficient, and an invaluable tool for reaching out to external and internal stakeholders. Our entire team, again with prompting from our boss, is also using online project management tools like Asana. This allows us to further maximise goal achievement in a transparent and trackable way no matter where we are working.

Ultimately, producing SR2019 has shown that it doesn’t matter if someone is WFH or in the office and having face-to-face meetings – what matters is his/her professionalism and commitment to deliver the work. This, plus willingness to adapt and enlightened leadership will see us through a global pandemic and a changed world.

What is the value of sustainability reporting? Find out here.

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