The extent of this pandemic and its harrowing impact might have been underestimated when it first hit the country. Most of us likely thought that it won’t be a big deal and we’ll just continue on with our weekend dinners and vacation plans.
At Globe, we made the right decision not to take it lightly—we prepared our safety protocols early on and prepared ourselves for what’s to come.
In February 2020, while the Philippines wasn’t feeling how big and disruptive this pandemic will become, I was very much convinced that I will be in Barcelona for the annual Mobile World Congress, an event participated in by as many as 750 telco operators worldwide.
We look forward to this event every year as one of the top telco companies in the Philippines, so when it was announced that the Mobile World Congress was canceled, we were initially shocked but it also served as our wake-up call. This pandemic is global and larger than anything we’ve seen in our lifetime.
Immediately, we went into our business continuity protocol for emerging and infectious diseases.
Top of our agenda was to secure the health and safety of our employees. Workplace protocols were set in place, including thermal scanners in all of our building access points, sanitation stations in all floors and common areas, provision for masks and alcohol for all employees, and constant reminders on handwashing and hygiene.
At the backend, we were assessing our online capabilities to ensure that we can operate in full digital mode. We had millions of customers to serve, repairs and maintenance at the network and IT side that we cannot compromise. We talked to our suppliers to start pivoting and commit to unimpeded deliveries. We made adjustments in our operations, getting ready for a worst case scenario.
On March 13, the last Friday before the first enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was imposed in Metro Manila, we made arrangements for a rotating operations scheme across our workforce, where the organization was split into two teams rotating every five working days.
Immediately, we communicated the steps we were taking to our employees so everyone knew we were prepared.
When a pandemic hits, anxiety is at an all-time high. We knew our employees needed empathy and understanding, a softening perhaps from the usual target-laden business messages I usually make.
At a time of crisis, our employees needed leaders they can count on so that’s exactly what we gave them.
March 15 hit, ECQ was implemented, so we quickly transitioned our operations into a full work-from-home setup. By this time, we were on push button mode. We have identified our critical skeleton force to keep our network and IT operations running unabated.
I remember at that time, I had only one goal in mind as CEO—as much as possible, create minimal to no disruption in our operations whatever comes our way because our customers were counting on us. People need our services, they need to stay connected whatever happens. Immediately, we realized the role that telco operators will play in this situation, as digital technology will become the only recourse for Filipinos.
Looking back, I thought of many what-ifs. What if the government listened to our pleas to make permits easier? What if local governments were more cooperative to the industry? What if we invested in fiber to homes much earlier?
The first few weeks of the quarantine went by in a blur as we pivoted our operations, products and offers to what our customers needed most. More data packs, leeway on credit action, lower priced packages, student offers for online learning and a lot more.
Our stores had to shut down so we went online to deliver after sales services.
We launched mobile apps to be our one-stop shop for customers—both sales and after sales. We extended connectivity support to supermarkets and hospitals, bill extensions, zero-rated hotlines and websites for COVID-19 related channels, and provided easy access to our self-service platforms to ensure continuity of our services despite the quarantine limitations.
While we halted advertising efforts, we communicated to our customers heavily through online channels, making sure we are accessible to our customers anytime.
While we were exerting all efforts to be business as usual, we realized that at a time like this, when every fabric of our society is struggling, we had to do more because we have the capacity for more. We have to take care of our communities —most especially our frontliners.
Much early on we took all the online assets we had to raise funds for medical frontliners, help local governments, and especially help public and private COVID-19 hospitals who were then carrying the full weight of increasing COVID-19 cases.
We made use of our Rewards platform, our GCash platform, our over 8,000 employee base, the whole Ayala Group, and our Singtel shareholder for a concerted multi-stakeholder donation drive.
We have raised over P76 million in donations, benefitting over 60 hospitals nationwide. In a crisis as big as a pandemic, no one’s job is made easier, definitely not mine nor any of the leaders of the company.
At least at the office, I had the incredible support of our leadership team. At home though, as a father and head of our family, my job was equally challenging.
My wife and I set up our own protocols at home, especially since my daughter-in-law was nearing full term with our first grandson—Parker. Thankfully the birth went through without a hitch and both mother and son are healthy!
I am truly proud of our teams for executing as quickly as we hoped to make our services available to our customers and the whole country.
While the government did its best to contain the situation and mitigate its impact, the private sector took on the responsibility of providing assistance right at the time when Filipinos are looking for as much help as they can get.
At Globe, apart from ensuring nonstop connectivity, we also took to heart the enablement of our customers to continue on with their lives right at the safety of their homes.
Today, the Globe Group has created a OneGlobe ecosystem that integrates core telco services with other life-enabling services like financial technology, telemedicine and e-commerce.
Almost naturally, Filipinos gravitated toward GCash for their online payments, insurance, food delivery and even start investments. KonsultaMD became the Filipinos’ practical and affordable choice for online medical consultations at the time when hospitals and clinics were too risky to visit.
As GCash democratized financial services, so did KonsultaMD for primary health care.
Through it all, we cannot argue that the one thing Filipinos needed most was better and more reliable connectivity.
So even with various forms of quarantines, we continued to build and upgrade our network to 4G LTE and 5G. In addition, we refocused our investments to put fiber to homes.
We are confident this strategy will ease the pain of our customers who are looking for better data, faster speed and reliable connectivity.
Now that telco services are tagged as essential, we are ready to lead the country toward its digital transformation. We look forward to the day when more Filipinos partake of the gains of a true digital economy.
It was quite a privilege to personally address our President to appeal for better conditions for the telco industry in the country. We have the government to thank for the two enabling laws that brought real positive change to the industry—the Anti-Red Tape Authority and Bayanihan 2 laws.
The Filipino has been recognized for its resiliency and the bayanihan spirit. These values resonate more loudly today as it takes the whole country to come together and create a future post-pandemic.
When I look back at the year that was, I am still stunned as to how our organization has kept thriving despite being physically apart. As we forge our recovery and resurgence, we remain steady on our course to uplift the lives of the Filipino. —BY ERNEST L. CU
Ernest Cu is the president and CEO of Globe and recently recognized as the 2021 International Finance Awards Best Telecommnications CEO.