Webinar Series 3 Vietnam: Here's What You Missed

In the Vietnam addition of our interactive webinar series, the CEO & Founder of AYP Group, Ms Annie Yap, and the managing partner of DN Legal, Ms Dao Nguyen will share about how they have successfully digitalized their businesses, transformed their business processes, supported their employees and sustained business continuity during the circuit breaker period while adapting to the changing business dynamics amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dao is the managing partner of DN Legal. She advises on all aspects of doing business in Vietnam.  Her practice includes corporate and M&A, banking and finance, real estate, energy and infrastructure.  She has acted for developers and the government of Vietnam on several landmark projects including the first licensed BOT project in Vietnam.

  1. When COVID happened, how did your company respond to the situation?

We took several actions with two main concerns in minds (that our team is taken care of financially and they are safe from COVID-19):

  1. Build up a cash reserve: The partners of the firm decided not to take their 2019 distribution to ensure that we have enough cash to pay salaries and other operating costs in full for as long as possible. We want to make sure that our staff is secure.
  2. Puts safety first: Two weeks before the Government declared extreme social distancing measures and even though they said that law firms are essential services and we can still work from the office, we decided that the firm would work from home. I think we were one of the first companies to do so and we remained so even a week after the official measures were lifted.

In terms of operation, we were already prepared at all times to work remotely:

  1. From the start, we do not have desktops. Everyone has a personal laptop. All our files are centralised and work servers can be accessed remotely. The reason for this is we want to be as mobile as possible and we want to create a flexible work environment where the team feels we can work anywhere.
  2. We were already communicating via Viber through Group chats with clients and with one another. Thus, our communication was not disrupted in any way. In addition, as soon as we began to work from home, we migrated immediately from Viber to Slack.
  3. At the same time, we also started using Zoom immediately for daily communications. We have daily Zoom calls with the team to not just deal with work but to make sure that everyone is OK and not isolated.
  1. Which stage of the reopening is your country now at and what is your company’s position and direction moving forward? 

As you know, Vietnam did a great job in COVID-19 prevention and went for 99 days without any cases and social distancing was lifted and it was back to normal until the last two week or so when new cases arose in Da Nang. HCMC has required bars and clubs to close but other businesses are opening as normal except that masks are required to be worn.

Our company direction and position has not changed. I actually think as a firm we are stronger having gone through the lock down in March for almost 5 weeks.

  1. What are some practices adopted to help with employees’ transitioning back into offices? 

We continue to use Zoom and Slack. Other than that, our team wants to come back to the office and does not seem to have any issue coming back

  1. How is your government supporting businesses? e.g. grants?

They have reduced Corporate Income Tax by 30%

  1. What are some new business practices (BCP) being adopted since the pandemic? How have these changes affected the way businesses are run?

From my observation, it seems everyone actually prefers meeting via Zoom these days rather than in person. I think all of us are surprised at how well technologies for videoconferencing and other forms of digital collaboration were adopted. For us, it was seamless. 

Other than training their staff on basic COVID safety measures, I am not sure if companies have redesigned their offices in VN yet.

  1. There is a misconception that working in an office is more productive than working from home. Based on the past experiences, what are your thoughts? What are some metrics/ways being used to measure productivity?

I think whether one works from home or at the office, the key is communications so that everyone is clear on what work has to be done. 

  1. We have weekly work meetings with all the lawyer to go through a list of work items and actions to be taken. 
  2. For each work stream, we also have group chats or threads in Slack so it is almost the same as having a conversation in real time on all issues. 
  3. For operations, we also have a group chat on billing and finance and weekly reports as well as meetings. 

The physical meetings have been replaced by Zoom meetings but nothing else has changed in terms of communication.

For law firms, we measure productivity by time recording. So in that sense it is easy and in that regard WFH has not changed our productivity. 

I actually think people work harder from home because sometimes you don’t take the usual breaks like going into someone’s office for a chat or going out for a coffee break with a colleague. So the challenge to to prevent fatigue from overworking from home rather than the other way around.

  1. What are some ways in which you are supporting your employees as they WFH? Do you think such working arrangements are sustainable?

When we had to WFH, we had daily Zoom calls and everyone is asked to share how they are feeling that day or sometimes we share some personal experience. Thus, everyone is given a chance to speak and share.

I also took this chance to train the younger lawyers. During this time, the Government issued many directives and instructions and our team would translate and prepare legal updates in English to make sure everyone is aware of the latest developments. I had a chance to work directly with them on legal writing and other skills.

WFH is not sustainable if it is permanent as a certain amount of real life contact is still important. I certainly think a hybrid is possible as an option but most of our young team prefers to be in the office.

  1. How do you foresee the future of work and the new normal? What are the skills sets needed to ensure preparedness and adaptability of employees?

I think the ‘new’ normal is that traveling for work will not be seen as essential as before. COVID-19 has forced us to switch to virtual and most of the time it works very well.

I think we have to learn to learn to communicate in different ways and in person meetings may not be seen as essential any more in the same way as hopping on a plane to go to a meeting was before.

  1. How have you been able to cope with the need to digitalize your business processes? What are some ways to ensure the security of information/data?

As I mentioned we have these measures in place already. We have a dedicated network and server and a dedicated IT manager to monitor data security.

  1. With regard to employees’ preferences to WFH/in the office, what are your opinions or thoughts on this? 

I think our employees actually prefer to be in the office. I think given the fact that we are a people-based business, part of the training for young lawyers is learning on the job as therefore being in the office and learning is still the best where we can monitor and give them instant feedback and attention.  

  1. How do you continue to maintain your company culture in light of these changes?

As I mentioned, the human connection is still the most important whether we work in the office or from home. Making sure that everyone is excited about work and is engaged is important. Technology makes that very easy. Ultimately, our employees have to feel safe and well taken care of and that we are all in this together. Thus, we work hard to preserve that by our actions. So far, we have not had to reduce salaries or let anyone go. In addition, we continue to monitor the situation in VN and the first sign of any risk we immediately communicate with our teams and prepare them for having to WFH again. We also provide masks and sanitizers to all employees at work. So I think the team feels that we are doing our best to keep the safe and look after them. 

  1. What is the most important advice for businesses reopening during such a pandemic? 

Safety. The safety of our clients and our teams is our first priority. 

Making sure that we have as much cash as possible to prepare for any contingency and that means working hard to issue bills and collect payment so that we have at least 3-6 months reserves on hand.

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