Transforming themselves to uplift others

Photo by Anthony Shkraba

Hashtaqs uplifts businesses in brand transformation and omni-channel marketing through advisory and implementation online and offline. Since their business’ inception in 2016, they have built an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, industry leaders, government and investors across Asia, and established Hashtaqs in 2020 to separate their branding and marketing business from the conference business.

Like all businesses, they have been impacted by the changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these shifts are the need for remote working capabilities, and an increased digital presence. Working together with Zoho, Hashtaqs has managed to enact a smooth transition during the lull period in 2020, allowing them to leverage on the recovering climate in 2021.

SMEhorizon talks to Renee Tan, Managing Director, Hashtaqs, and Gibu Mathew, Vice President Asia Pacific, Zoho Corporation , about adapting successfully to the new digital business environment, the need for suitable tools that facilitate remote work, and how companies can move forward beyond the crises faced today.

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Renee Tan, Managing Director, Hashtaqs Pte Ltd

Facing the becalmed waters of 2020

Hashtaq’s clients are a mix of MNCs and SMEs in various industry sectors, as well as both B2B and B2C businesses. “For the SMEs, we serve them in brand transformation advisory and marketing implementation,” explains Tan.

“As for MNCs, they would engage in specific campaigns related to conferences, webinars, lead engagement and digital marketing activities.”

As such, their company was greatly impacted through the trickle-down effect from their clients’ affected businesses.

Nevertheless, the company continued to maintain its operations even through the lull, actively transforming themselves and going digital almost immediately. And this, given the pandemic, meant a pivot to remote working.

Commenting on this adaptation, experienced by many businesses both large and small, Mathew notes that it is not just about having suitable tools, but also “essential for employees to be provided with the training necessary to build the skillset through which they adapt to the new digital normal.”

Communication is also key. “More importantly, employers need to realise that even with the right skillset, remote working requires a high degree of communication to sustain effectiveness,” he remarks.

“Through a transparent communication system employees remain aware of what’s happening in an organisation, as managers are encouraged to inform their team about any important advancements or business updates. This is critical for the alignment of remote teams.”

Tan describes how, since the pandemic began, their company has gone from face-to-face conferences to virtual summits, from working in the office to Working-From-Home, from meeting customers face-to-face to virtual meetings, from monthly LearnXNetwork events to webinar sessions, and from in-person interviews with new hires to virtual ones.

But putting in the elbow grease though the difficult period has paid off in the long run. Says HTR, being consistent with their business activities has allowed them to gain digital presence during the lull period though sales was greatly affected. “Fortunately, our business has improved in 2021 and is gaining traction well,” shares Tan.

Tools and strategies for growth

Besides the need for a trained and informed team, Mathew also highlighted the need for data to remain accessible to its members. “With the shift to remote work and the growing reliance on mobile devices, businesses that leverage applications that are designed for a connected, mobile-first lifestyle will succeed,” he says.

“Access to productivity tools including notes, emails, event calendars, as well as documents, presentation files and spreadsheets; business tools like e-signing, invoice generation, and customer support functions will improve business productivity.

“With the flexibility and connectivity offered by mobile-optimised applications, employees are likely to adopt these mobile optimised solutions as they are well-suited to their lifestyle, increased adoption significantly speeds up the transformation journey.”

Working together with Zoho, Hashtaqs leveraged several of their solutions to continue aspects of their day-to-day operations, including Social Media postings and social analytics, day-to-day contact updates and email campaign execution. Other infrastructure such as the cloud storage of documents, storage of training materials, email interactions, and internal intranet, were also facilitated through this collaboration.

“As remote working is rapidly becoming the norm, team productivity, communication and collaboration are  essential for any business to become successful,” comments Mathew. “In that sense, it becomes important to choose the correct apps and tools that match your business and team’s needs, with protection of sensitive and confidential files shared on a daily basis between remote teams.

“Through adopting a platform that is easy to use, employees can focus on doing what needs to be done for the success of their businesses, as opposed to wasting valuable time dealing with technical difficulties.”

Sailing forth

Beyond the technical aspects of their collaboration, Tan has found working with Zoho giving insights into developing Hashtaqs itself. “After interacting with Zoho, which is consistently innovating new products and advancing their product lines, we learned that it’s important to create multiple streams of income through product innovation with the launch of new brands or solutions that will meet the market needs.”

“Having observed that Zoho can continuously expand during the pandemic and manage its huge staff count virtually, it inspired me to grow the team across borders, and manage them through digital means,” Tan continues, sharing that they are now looking into team expansion overseas. The company is also keen to explore technologies for their various brands, especially their new tech product that incorporates LMS and gamification components.

Adding to these observations, Mathew notes that SMEs, who have borne the brunt of the impact of the pandemic this past year and a half, need to look at technology as a differentiator to be able to deal with the on-going challenge of the post pandemic world where remote work is the norm.

“With limited resources, SMEs are unlikely to build their own on-premise solutions. However they have an advantage now by latching on to integrated cloud solutions as the best approach to leapfrog old technology trends and catch up on new ones. 

“SaaS offerings are available to digitise entire customer-side and employee -side interactions, including accounting, sales, collaboration  and project management. Specific needs differ for every business, not just between countries.

“Working with a solution provider with a wide range of integrated solutions made for modern work, SMEs will have the flexibility to adopt solutions as the need arises without the  need for significant upfront investment.

“Capability and knowledge is another factor that differs from one business to the other, it is imperative that the right amount of training is invested in, to provide employees with the digital skills necessary to take advantage of solutions,” he concludes.