Rajah & Tann leading the way in remote working through technology
My video conference call with Rebecca Chew, Deputy Managing Partner of Rajah & Tann, was already her fifth of the day. And it appears that working remotely by leveraging on technology is nothing new for the veteran lawyer, who oversees human resources for one of the biggest law firms in Southeast Asia.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to adapt to working from home, and Rajah & Tann is no exception. But Chew believes that this crisis has presented her lawyers and staff the unique opportunity to innovate and expand the remote working capabilities of the firm both in Singapore and regionally in, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam where they operate.
Speaking exclusively to HRM Asia, she said, “I think with the COVID-19 situation, we realised that we have a lot untapped potential in our tech capability. The firm’s COVID-19 taskforce managed to come up with new and innovative solutions for our staff and lawyers to work from home. In the past, we’ve always thought that working from home is only possible for our lawyers but with innovation, we are able to facilitate the carrying out of some support function from home.
“All our lawyers are given laptops and we have a system where they can essentially work from anywhere as long as they have a secure Wi-Fi environment. Arising from the COVID-19 outbreak, we are forced to essentially split our entire firm into two teams where half of which will have to work from home.
“We were initially concerned about how support staff may carry out their support function at home. Our IT team has been able to come up with new and innovative ways to enable our staff to have a virtual office in their own homes.
“Currently we have a telecommuting policy which is being utilized to some extent by about 50% of our workforce but with the COVID-19 outbreak, this percentage has increased making it possible for a substantial majority of our staff and lawyers to be able to participate in telecommuting.” she added.
The seamless transition to remote working did not happen overnight for the Singapore-based law firm which was founded in 1976 by T T Rajah and Tann Wee Tiong.
In fact, the secret to the company’s success is being ahead of the curve in the adoption of technology. And that has helped the company to stay ahead of the times and equip its people to adapt to working remotely.
“The journey has been quite smooth for us because the firm has always been at the forefront of trying to improve and get ahead of the curve. In the early 90s, not many people were familiar with the internet and the concept of internet was still very remote to a lot of companies. But we were already adopting it,” Chew shared.
“That was when we started our journey and decided to have internet in the firm. We started with Lotus Notes at that time and from that point onwards we’ve always tried to modernize the firm and move ahead of the times,” she added.
Not many companies can boast of building their own IT system to cater to their employees’ needs. But Rajah & Tann can. In fact, its IT team has been instrumental in digitalising the company’s processes – from recruitment, filling of papers, trainings to appraisals.
“To remain competitive, we have built a very good IT team that is always on the lookout for new innovations. So instead relying solely on external service providers, we are able to come up with our own solutions,” Chew said.
“For example, we have our own e-recruitment platform where we receive seven to eight hundred applications every year. So everything is done online and in-house.
“Even for our trainings, it’s done virtually through the Rajah & Tann Asia Academy, where we provide training programs for all our employees in the region. This has put us in very good position in light of the current situation as we have been able to continue rolling out our trainings and learning programs virtually through our academy,” she added.
The workforce is undergoing the biggest work-from-home exercise in recent memory and there is little sign of it ending anytime soon. And with the slew of technologies available to help workers adapt and be productive working from their homes, is remote working here to stay?
“I am not too sure. Relationships are still very important to us. And for many of our clients, they still very much value face-to-face interaction,” she replied. “We hope that once this entire situation blows over, we will be able to revert back to normal where we can actually have some face-to-face interaction. But for the time being, the use of this technology has served us well.
“Importantly, through this experience, we have learnt to enhance efficiency through technology, that in my view will not go away and we hope to adopt even more tech to improve our service offerings to our clients.”