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Workforce Training in the New Normal

Workforce Training in the New Normal

What #COVID19 taught (and continues to teach) us. Guest post on HRTech Cube.

Even Spidey needs to continuously upskill. aka Training in the New Normal | Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash

Fun fact: When I wrote our company thesis in Jan 2018, ArcLab didn’t yet ‘exist’. 😅 We were in POC-mode, learning from usage data & feedback on a prototype built in 6 weeks, and incorporated ArcLab only 3 months later.

It’s been an eventful 2 years.

In Aug 2018, ArcLab released our MVP and got accepted to AWS EdStart. We launched the full platform in Jul 2019, welcomed paying customers, and were accepted into the pioneer class of Spaze Ventures’ EduSpaze accelerator in Feb 2020. We were also humbled to be featured in Holon IQ’s inaugural SE Asia EdTech 50 in Jun 2020 and welcomed investment from Bisk Ventures in Sep 2020.

These milestones provided encouragement to us that ArcLab was solving a big problem, and doing it in a scalable way.

Our work to Upskill the World’s Deskless Workforce is only just beginning. Embracing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ famous #Day1 mindset, we continuously listen to our users and build out our platform to serve our customer organisations.

But like most organisations, our original plans and projections never quite factored in an infectious disease that would lock down entire countries and change the face of our world and economy as we knew it.

COVID-19 & our VUCA world | Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous. — V.U.C.A.

COVID-19 accelerated the paradigm shift that had already started to take hold of the public consciousness.

To me, COVID-19 is the very definition of VUCA. It starts with biology, where individual symptoms may be Uncertain and sometimes Ambiguous, spreads through social behaviour which differs from society to society and can be Volatile, and through various Complex linkages — impacts much of everything around us, notably our economies, jobs, livelihoods, and lives.

Each country’s COVID-19 response differed — a reflection of culture, politics and sometimes plain common sense (or lack thereof). There is still much we don’t know about COVID-19, despite the best efforts of our brightest minds. We can only hope our scientists and doctors make good progress on understanding the disease and developing a vaccine.

The immediate impact of this VUCA disease: Large gatherings of people are no longer possible, for fear of the virus’ spread. Workplaces could no longer function as before. What we took for granted — people meeting or gathering in the same location, could no longer be done.

Truth is: Many of us are generally resistant to change. INERTIA — ‘this is how we’ve always done things so there is no reason to change’ is a big obstacle to progress, even if the alternative is better. From a career perspective, it’s also riskier to propose something new that nobody else is doing, compared with sticking with the status quo, and the safety of ‘everyone else is doing it’.

Until COVID-19 hit.

The by-now famous meme | Pic credits: Forbes

COVID-induced lockdowns globally meant teams could no longer gather in the workplace. So Remote Work became the default arrangement (though some in our workforce still need to brave the frontlines 🙌).

Human Resource teams became organisations’ champions, helping staff in many organisations transition to the new remote work arrangement. A task made harder by schools also moving to home-based learning at the same time.

For HR, this would prove to be their shining moment. Many proved their mettle and it’s only apt that we give a shoutout to our HR professionals — who got going when the going got tough.

During tough economic situations, businesses are forced to take an even harder look at financial performance. For many companies, COVID-19 hurt top-line, which inevitably impacts their ability to fund running costs, of which a significant portion is headcount and salary.

There is no question that without customers and revenue, firms cannot (and in fact have no need to) fund headcount. Yet talent is also needed to develop product to solve customer needs and grow the business. At ArcLab, we fully understand this as we are a business ourselves.

Several governments stepped up quickly to square the circle through salary support schemes, like Singapore’s Jobs Support Scheme and the United Kingdom’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Though these, state funds are channeled to help firms fund a percentage of cash burn, while they figure out how to pivot their businesses and continue to operate in a much-changed world.

Except for tourism-related businesses where the recovery to pre-pandemic levels is likely to be some time away, other business sectors are slowly starting to recover, many adding or pivoting to newer (and often-digital) models. This gives some financial space to companies to at least think beyond immediate survival concerns.

With the workplace also transformed, teams in many countries will work remotely at least part of the workweek, and in split arrangements for the foreseeable future. Employers will need to think about how to adapt their businesses accordingly, to operate as an ongoing concern and (if we dare dream it) to grow.

Workforce Training is a Need. Not a Want.

Now more than ever, businesses need strong leadership to strategise, and a high-performing team to execute.

Good businesses are built by high-performing teams.

Highly-performing teams do not happen by chance. The first step is good recruitment — to find good people. Companies also need to:

  • Rally hires behind a shared vision,
  • Onboard hires properly, and
  • Train them in what’s needed to perform their job role.

The last 2 points are important, especially for our junior and rank-&-file workforce. Very few of us take on a role and become expert workers right-off-the-bat. New hires typically go through an Onboarding process to familiarise with the business and their role, followed by an On-the-Job Training (“OJT”) process, mentored and guided by a supervisor or senior.

Implementing OJT and mentoring is hard enough in normal times. It’s time-and-labour-intensive, and does not scale well. So for businesses that employ more than 5–10 staff, it becomes cumbersome and inefficient for supervisors and seniors to train new staff.

A better way is needed, and has always been needed. The solution for scale has always been technology, once we got the training andragogy right.

At ArcLab, we learnt a few things from serving our customers:

  1. How important it was for the workforce to learn In the Flow of Work. This reduces time away from the shop or factory floor and maximises productivity.
  2. How crucial it was for training to be Uniform, so the company’s standards can be taught without personal bias (or person-specific incompetence!).
  3. How useful it is to continuously provide Performance Support to staff through digital training material — Training Manuals, 101s, Primers, Standard Operating Procedures. So staff can easily access information for them to do their jobs AS-AND-WHEN they need it.

In our New Normal, it’s no longer possible to gather 1–200 people in a training room. Organisations have to do this more efficiently and effectively. So the way forward is to leverage on the power of digital, and to stage out learning, through bite-sized modules, delivered directly to staff devices.

Moving training to the digital/mobile space also helps businesses reduce time and cost needed for training. This effectively funds free headcount for the business, through the resource savings and productivity gains.

Importantly, mobile learning can bring great uptick in learner engagement, knowledge retention and most importantly, knowledge application. Some of these knowledge application metrics include— the drop in customer complaints, production errors etc, time spent on tasks. These are very tangible business objective metrics and provides a positive return on training investment.


COVID-19 has negatively impacted all our lives. The silver linings we can glean for now are:

  1. A greater appreciation for the dedication and hard work of our frontline workers — our cleaners, transport workers, delivery and supply chain professionals, healthcare heroes and our educators.
  2. An irreversible push towards digital and mobile: Video-conferencing, e-commerce, digital payments, tele-health and Digital Learning were all catalysed by COVID-19, and helped make some parts of our lives better to offset the pain and inconvenience it wrought elsewhere.

COVID-19 might yet be with us for some time. Hence, we expect mobile learning to support organisations in a Business Continuity Planning, as well as a Business-As-Usual situation.

ArcLab stands ready to support every organisation in this important part of your Digital Transformation journeys.

For Training is not a luxury for businesses. It is an absolute staple, because without a high-performing team, it’s impossible to build a great business.

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#WFH as an ArcLab Intern

WFH as an ArcLab Intern

Editor’s note: ArcLab is privileged to work closely with Singapore Polytechnic (“SP”). In March 2020, we welcomed Joanna from SP’s School of Business to intern with ArcLab till Aug 2020. Alas, Singapore moved into #CircuitBreaker mode which meant Joanna had to #WorkfromHome after just 1 1/2 weeks.

Here’s Joanna’s story, and what she built to help organisations get staff ready for Remote Work Arrangements.


By now, majority would be familiar with the telecommuting lifestyle following the Circuit Breaker measures implemented by the Singapore government just last month. I was privileged enough to be able to intern from home as well. Being my first time working from home, it definitely took time adjusting to a different lifestyle and I thought I would share my experience so far…

Photo by Nolan Issac on Unsplash

Since we are on the topic of lifestyle changes, a significant change for me was not having to wake up as early as before Circuit Breaker to get ready for work. I think this is something many people can resonate with. Whether you are a working adult or an intern, showing up for work on time means having to wake up 1, 2 or even 3 hours earlier! You could be taking a longer time than necessary choosing an outfit for work, making breakfast, or even having to drop your kids off at school before rushing to work.

However, with the new Circuit Breaker measures in place, time taken to get ready for work online is significantly reduced. You no longer have to worry about getting your children to school on time. You can even be working in your PJs and enjoying that cup of coffee while answering to work emails. Working from home now means being able to get an extra hour of sleep! Of course, with every benefit there is a downside.

Working from home also taught me a lot about how productivity and discipline go hand in hand. With no one (manager, supervisor, or even colleagues) constantly keeping you in check, it can be hard saying no to distractions. It could be constantly wanting to crawl back into bed, or making rounds to your fridge looking for a quick bite. What I found helpful for me was writing down a to-do list for the week (and although this may not be the first time hearing such an advice, it really does help!) — and once I was done with a task, I would have the satisfaction of crossing it off the list.

Photo by Allie on Unsplash

With an increasing reliance on technology, I realised how we often take it for granted, because without it we would hardly be able to get any work done, let alone communicate with our friends and colleagues (even more so during this period). At ArcLab, we use Slack and Zoom to communicate with each other. We even have scheduled weekly Zoom call meetings to update each other on the progress of our work and how our weekend has been.

Speaking of technology…

Split Teams & Remote Work modules

A main project that I have been working on was creating modules for Nano Learning modules for ArcLab’s new “Split Teams & Remote Work” (or WFH) series. The series was created in line with the WFH measures implemented by companies, to help both employers and employees alike adapt to the new work arrangements. If you have yet to check it out or have a few minutes to spare in between your day, you can do so here!

With the hustle and bustle of work, it’s very rare that we find time to learn something new, or pick up a new hobby. We probably steer clear of this as well due to our perception that learning = lengthy = time consuming.

ArcLab Nano Learning modules (such as the WFH series) has thus been made targeted, specific and short so that you can slot learning into your busy schedule, without taking up too much of your time!

My WFH experience has been a fulfilling one so far, and I certainly hope yours has been too! Press on, the Circuit Breaker is almost coming to an end, and we would soon be a step closer to resuming our lives as normal.

#StayHomeStaySafe #NanoLearning

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#WFH isn’t for everyone

WFH isn’t for everyone

With contributions from Edwin of PowerAbsolut and Justina for Edugrow for Brighter Tomorrows

Covid-19: BAU no more | Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

7 Feb 2020 almost seems a lifetime ago.

It was the day Singapore upgraded her disease outbreak status to DORSCON Orange, in response to what the world would soon know as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19. As COVID-19 infection numbers rose, governments all over the world began to impose quarantine, lockdown, movement control measures to limit community spread. Singapore started her own “circuit breaker” on 7 April, recently extended till 1 June.

With travel curtailed and workplaces closed, Work-From-Home was no longer good Business Continuity or a fashionable hashtag. WFH was now non-negotiable. Schools also closed, so students now had Home-based Learning, or HBL.

Organisations began getting licenses for video conferencing software, communication platforms, productivity tools.

Mobile learning and edtech tools saw increased uptake, as training could no longer be done face-to-face.

Video Conference Prep, for the Nth time today | Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Organisations began social-sharing their teams doing video conferences. Photos (and videos!) of video conferences, encouraging messages and memes started to grow, as #WFH started to trend.

While most of us are taking WBL/HBL in our stride, there is starting to be cabin fever / fatigue as lockdown periods get extended.

There was the odd joke about how COVID-19 was a conspiracy by video conferencing software companies / food delivery platforms etc. Some comments were in really poor taste — snide remarks about teachers celebrating that they could slack / shirk, folks living in mansions or large apartments complaining about how they couldn’t find a suitable place to ‘focus’ to work.

Worse, some started to flat-out disregard Stay-at-Home advisories and venture out, turning ‘grocery shopping’ into family outings, and driving to different parts of the country to buy food or ‘exercise’.


#WFH isn’t for everyone

I’m using this op-ed to highlight that even as some might tire of #WFH, it is in fact a PRIVILEGE enjoyed by just a small part of our societies, and in many cases, only the higher-income and white-collar segments of our workforce.

Most of us are aware of F&B and retail businesses for whom WFH is a near-to-impossible option. There are in fact many others. I canvassed some perspectives:

Engineering: Contribution By Mr Edwin Wong (CEO, PowerAbsolut)

“In the engineering sector, WFH may be applied where work is instructional, administrative, design, e-commerce, etc. Meetings and reviews can be done via video or phone, but these are not the core money-making activities to begin with.

In marine engineering, WFH is virtually irrelevant. Production, maintenance, repair, troubleshooting, survey all necessitate onsite presence. Shipbuilding, fire systems certification, ship surveys and inspections, GPS system installation etc. all require physical presence and very often, congregation. Such work requires physical interaction with machines and other stakeholders. These are the revenue-generating activities which cannot be executed from a remote location.

The Singapore government has been helpful in NOT imposing a full lockdown or enforcing WFH across the board, which will otherwise seal the fate of many engineering businesses. We need the entire society to help us. Please listen to the health professionals, comply with the government, change our social behaviour to keep everyone safe.

So that those of us whose work nature do not permit us to WFH, WILL NOT BE LOCKED DOWN. The more the outbreak is contained, the lesser the restrictions, the sooner we regain our footing.”

Healthcare: Contribution by Dr Wong (Working in a private clinic)

“Healthcare is an essential service that is still open to provide emergency services. Many perceive that it’s business-as-usual for private healthcare providers, far from the truth. Non-urgent or elective procedures that form a substantial portion of our work cannot be done, resulting in significant loss of revenue. Yet we continue to honour our commitment to staff, paying full salaries, and taking this time to train and re-train ourselves.

Private healthcare providers have been taking extreme precautions to safeguard the interest of their patients, as well as healthcare staff who are at highest risk of getting COVID-19, where examining patients require close contact. Most healthcare workers have no option to work from home.

We are totally in alignment with MOH and the Government’s call. Stay at home and flatten the curve. Avoid crowded places like wet markets and supermarkets. Healthcare workers cannot battle this virus alone. Collectively, every resident in Singapore must play their part. Then things can go back to normal for all.

Social Sector: Contribution by Ms Justina Quek (Programme Manager, Edugrow for Brighter Tomorrows)

While our children take to platforms like TikTok seamlessly, HBL is, unfortunately, not done via the social networking app. When MOE first announced moving to a month-long HBL, Social Service Agencies island-wide like us had to scour around for devices for our children. That was the first hurdle.

Next was the knowledge and skills gaps in typing, or navigating the various e-learning, video conferencing, and shared drive platforms. These are still considered “easy” problems with “easy” solutions.

The more challenging struggles are the environmental factors; whether it was the lack of a proper study space (such as a table and chair with proper lighting), or a lack of structure (as opposed to being in school), or even simply a lack of the privilege of quiet. Regrettably, many things the more privileged amongst us take for granted becomes more pronounced during this period of WFH.

Nonetheless, this period also serves as an opportunity for us at EduGrow for Brighter Tomorrows to bridge that very gap with the children we work with. In enforcing HBL, our children have to learn to deal with browsers and tabs, pick up basic typing skills, and have found a use for the microphones attached to their earpieces. They have learnt to take ownership of their own studies and set their own time tables.

While we cannot change their environment, we can empower our children to adapt and become more resilient. We walk step-by-step with children who need the extra assistance or an extra push, to ensure that no one gets left behind — or fall further behind. WFH or HBL aren’t great nor are they ideal. But, like our children, we can learn to work with the hands we are dealt with.

So in summary, #WFH is not a privilege easily enjoyed by:

our healthcare heroes, our F&B, hospitality, delivery, supply chain & logistics colleagues, our security staff, our cleaning colleagues, our carers of young and old, our machinists, technicians and engineers, our construction workers, our law enforcement officers and soldiers, our persons-with-disabilities in the workforce — for whom technology “as-is” may not be sufficient to help them to #WFH.


It’s a PRIVILEGE to be able to Work From Home.

COVID-19’s impact is still playing out, as our healthcare workers and scientists work tirelessly to combat the virus.

We all need to play our part — washing our hands, social distancing, and staying home as much as we can (see this excellent video by Jeremy Goh & Steven Jap).

No-one knows how long the outbreak will last. No-one knows how the world will be after, only that it will be changed.

Some of these changes are good, e.g. WFH and flexible work arrangements. I hope they stay even as our world returns to normal. We’ve also seen great leadership from some countries and companies, and acts of selflessness and heroism.

At firm level, we play our part in two ways:

  1. Collaborating with creative educators like The Dim Sum Warriors to create digital educational material that educate the public (children & adults) on COVID-19. Knowledge about how the virus spreads and what we can individually do to mitigate is the best weapon against community spread. TL;DR — Stay 🏠 Stay Safe.
  2. Helping firms to digitise training material that empowers them to remotely #Upskill staff for the #Upturn (which WILL eventually come), at scale. Ping us if you need help.

WFH is really a PRIVILEGE we should not abuse.

I hope my fellow contributors helped put our #WFH “woes” into perspective.

In the short-run, the Singapore government’s 3 Budgets provides a lot of short-term support for families’ and businesses’ cost pressures. But this cannot last forever and we all need topline (salaries, revenue) to kickstart the economy’s flywheel again.

So the more that those of us who can WFH do so, the more we can flatten the curve; and the sooner that everyone can revert to a more ‘normal’ arrangement — to visit our loved ones, eat our favourite foods, run and play outdoors.

With everyone playing our part, we can overcome these worst of times… with the best of times.

#StaySafe. #Stay Home.


Last but not least — If you’re Singapore-based, please donate your spare computer and/or accessories to Engineering Good, whose volunteers, led by Johann Annuar, are working overtime to bridge the digital divide and repurpose donated laptops for children of disadvantaged families to do HBL 🙌