Kunaciilan Nallappan, RVP of Marketing for Asia Pacific, shares his thoughts on F5’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing importance of putting employees, customers, and communities first as we navigate these times together.
Living in Asia, I knew something extraordinary was happening in late January when the Chinese government started its lockdown of Hubei province. This region is home to about 60 million residents. The move may seem extreme at first, but the harsh reality was that the government had little choice, and the move (in retrospect) undoubtedly saved lives. It was a directive that had reverberating effects on the rest of China, where residents were told to stay at home and work, if possible. I remember calling Jack Wang, who leads my team in China from Beijing, on that day, and asking him about how the team was adapting and trying to keep themselves safe, while at the same time continuing to engage with customers and their community.
The response plan that the China team had quickly put in place was intended as a set of best practices that could be used in other countries. As it turned out, it was only a matter of weeks before the coronavirus had spread to several parts of North and South Asia, with Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong being hit first with a wave of infections. While the governments in these countries each responded with a slew of precautions, F5 in Asia Pacific also moved to put in place several measures along many fronts, in concert with the efforts of F5’s worldwide technology services team. At the core of our response was taking a “human-first” approach, putting our employees, customers, and the community’s well-being first—far ahead of any monetary or commercial opportunities.
As a primary concern, we needed to ensure the safety of all Asia Pacific employees. We instituted a work from home policy for all employees who were able to do so. I remember coming into the Singapore office the next day to rows of empty cubicles as almost everyone was working from home. By this time, most of the countries in Asia Pacific were already recommending telecommuting. We went a step further by also ensuring that our employees were digitally enabled to continue to be productive within the safety of their homes. This was accomplished by:
For employees who were unable to work from home due to the nature of the work, we put in place safeguards such as twice-daily temperature checks. We also did little things that may sound rudimentary but made a difference—things like establishing additional hand sanitizer stations across the offices to help promote personal hygiene. (For more on how F5 employees in APCJ are adapting their workstyles, F5’s YouTube channel includes perspectives on general tips, customer engagement, and striking a balance in turbulent times.)
We all have a role to play in helping our community. One example that particularly moved me was what our China team did for their partners and the community in Wuhan. Upon hearing about the lockdown and the declining available protective equipment, our F5 team quickly activated support to call for donations. Our team was not obliged to do this, yet, they did, as they felt the responsibility to watch out for the extended community. Not stopping at that, the team also raised funds to purchase personal protective equipment for the Wuhan People’s Hospital, the epicenter of the action, to help contain the outbreak.
While each country is facing a different set of circumstances amid the COVID-19 pandemic, finding connection and resilience during this time is vital, especially more so during social distancing mandates and lockdowns.
Making connections is an integral part of F5’s DNA, and it's what makes us human. It was heartening to see countless examples of F5 individuals using technology—ranging from Zoom, FaceTime, WeChat, etc.—to bridge the divide and to keep us all connected, uniting us as a worldwide community.
We also realized that many of our customers would be activating their business continuity plans as well. Wanting to play our part in helping out, we offered immediate remote working solutions for any customers in urgent need. Many customers needed to significantly increase their capacity for remote access and were able to take advantage of these upgrades straightaway. We also made sure our support team was available to handle any requests on the implementations of these solutions. I remember during one of our remote team meetings, our head of Support for APAC commented on how his team was working around the clock to assist the number of customers expanding their F5 services for telecommuting. And for all of these, our support engineers were also working remotely!
The vast number of professionals working from home also meant engaging with customers in new ways. Our past years of investment in digital infrastructure paid significant dividends, as we were able to develop and execute digital engagement plans for our customers and partners. It was critical to stay connected and keep our customers updated on the ways F5 could support and help maintain business continuity at scale during this global crisis.
Notably, our China team led the way. They mobilized the team for a coordinated outreach to our base. The China team hosted a total of 45 free webinars—with topics ranging from thought leadership to technical trainings—and reaching around 30,000 channel partners and customer attendees.
As COVID-19 spread outside of China, the rest of the regions adopted China’s best practices to host a total of 15 free webinars. These sessions were conducted not just in English but in Bahasa Indonesia, Japanese, and even Cantonese, attracting close to 2,000 attendees.
In the coming months, we will be ramping up digital activities across the rest of Asia Pacific. The marketing team in Hong Kong, for example, is even planning an online hackathon series for customers to keep them engaged in an interactive gamified manner.
Instead of taking an easy road in shutting down business operations, we applaud and are encouraged by the many who have seen the current circumstances as a cause for creativity and innovation. We are far from being done with the fight against this coronavirus. Still, it has been heart-warming to see how the F5 team united as one to ensure the safety of one other—both mentally and physically—and also to witness the level of kindness and concern extended to customers, partners, and our communities by staying true to the core value of being "human-first"!