The workplace that we know is changed. What now?

The workplace that we know is changed. What now?

The pandemic has forced us to rethink the traditional workplace. As the world inches towards an endemic and organisations recover, one thing is clear – hybrid work environments are here to stay.

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With 90% of employees in Asia Pacific prioritising workplace flexibility according to a study by EY, implementation of hybrid workspaces or even condensed work week options has become a key factor in talent retention.  

This raises the question: How can companies provide workers with the flexibility of hybrid workplaces or condensed work weeks without compromising on productivity?

“Employers must enhance technology for virtual project planning, ideas and knowledge sharing, communication and dashboarding. For example, we have seen a spike in interest in cloud-based technology tools for collaboration, training and networking,” said Stephen Koss, EY’s Asia-Pacific Workforce Advisory Leader on the technological investments that companies are planning to make to smoothen the transition to a hybrid work environment.

“A majority of employers also plan to invest in better in-office technology such as faster Internet speeds and at-home technology such as extra monitors and headsets for greater productivity,” he added. 

“In the hybrid workplace, companies should view flexibility as a way to support productivity, rather than as two opposing factors,” said Yvonne Teo, Vice President – Human Resources, Asia Pacific at ADP. 

"Increasing working hours does not equate to improved productivity; rather, it comes when companies invest in better technology and software, and are committed to building a self-motivated workforce. Assessment metrics should be geared towards output and results, rather than hours spent at work."

In a recent ADP global study of 32,741 workers, which included 7,627 APAC respondents, 76% of workers said they will be in the workplace at least some of the time. A question posed to workers and businesses was which of the changes that were forced upon them by the pandemic are here to stay and which will prove to be only temporary measures, from which they will revert when life returns to ‘normal’.

A key area of debate to date has been around the extent to which working from home will remain the norm for many, for all or part of the week. “With all the constant disruption and uncertainty, it’s no longer feasible to expect that every employee can maintain the same level of productivity with standardised working hours or schedules. Multiple factors can affect workers’ well-being – not all of which are directly related to the workplace,” said Teo, who advised that training and development, career mapping, and staff benefits should be geared towards each employee’s needs as they are different, be they a working parent or a fresh graduate.

Questions can be answered using analytics in areas such as: how productive are employees? How well networked are they? Who is more likely to suffer burnout? How engaged are they? Who may be operating under stress? Who may be operating outside the risk parameters set in the organisation?  We are only starting to scratch the surface of what is possible to measure using analytics in the workplace.

-Stephen Koss, Asia-Pacific Workforce Advisory Leader, EY

How analytics can help employers

EY’s study of more than 1,000 business leaders across nine countries and 25 industry sectors found that 48 % prefer a full return to office post pandemic. A challenge moving forward lies in how we can reconcile employers’ anxiety over staff engagement and productivity and the employees’ need for flexible work arrangements.

“Employers are using robust analytics to manage critical risks when reimagining work models. For example, data analytics can help organisations assess and redesign their business talent supply chain and workforce acquisition operating model and programs, and to increase their ability to secure the right mix of workforce capabilities to achieve their business ambitions,” said EY’s Koss.

Koss added that having the information on their current workforce will enable companies to evaluate existing and future staffing needs, identify growing skills gaps, and to choose and help implement technology to assess and screen candidates for skill and culture fit.

Analytics can become important to help monitor both the remote and onsite worker. 

“Questions can be answered using analytics in areas such as: how productive are employees? How well networked are they? Who is more likely to suffer burnout? How engaged are they? Who may be operating under stress? Who may be operating outside the risk parameters set in the organisation?  We are only starting to scratch the surface of what is possible to measure using analytics in the workplace,” Koss said.

ADP’s Teo added that in a socially distanced workplace, data can give visibility into the workforce, especially when HR, payroll and other business software are integrated. “Business leaders should be on the lookout for systems that can provide real-time, transparent reporting on the factors mentioned (engagement, productivity) – making it easier for them to monitor performance, track progress, and flag any issues that the data might reveal – e.g. pay gaps; unused benefits, excessive unpaid overtime, and so on, which can then assist them in building a fairer workplace.”

While employers will need to manage and monitor their employees, issues, or perceptions of fairness, need to be addressed, explained Teo. “Leaders must communicate the rationale behind each management decision and take the initiative to consider and address potential concerns or give a “heads up” for any changes. Otherwise, miscommunication, speculation and confusion occurs all too easily.

“Teams need good communication, an open and collaborative working culture, and clear lines of reporting. Following structured timelines for check-ins and evaluation periods will also help to keep team members accountable to each other and their team leads.”

Leaders themselves need to be forthcoming about the struggles they are facing, which can encourage their employees, in turn, to open up about what they need at work, and to keep in mind that navigating a new normal has been just as tough for their managers as it has been for them. A bit of understanding will go a long way on both sides.

-Yvonne Teo, Vice President – Human Resources, Asia Pacific, ADP

What’s the ‘new normal’ of employee experience?

Beyond the shift into hybrid work and productivity concerns, COVID-19 has changed the way workers view their relationships with their employers. Workers possessing skills in demand now hold higher bargaining power and employers are expected to prioritise the physical and mental well being of their staff- a fundamental shift away from the traditional employer-employee relationship.

“Companies need to think about the employer that they aspire to be, identify the talent they are looking to secure, and accommodate the needs of existing and potential employees. Employees are more likely to rate the attractiveness of employers based on how particular companies responded to the pandemic and their role in promoting well-being. They respond best when leaders demonstrate their own humanity by being empathetic and demonstrating care for their people,” said EY’s Koss.

“Keeping our focus on what humans need to perform at their best and taking a more empathetic approach will help improve staff well-being and productivity. We envision that companies will proactively identify the people-oriented investments and define the organisational changes that they need to make to achieve resilience across the enterprise.”

The post-pandemic workplace will thrive on a culture built on trust rather than control, said Teo from ADP. This means that instead of top-down management, leaders who consult employees on decisions can help to build a mutual sense of appreciation and empowerment. Employees and leaders must also work together in setting boundaries, communicating their needs, and being willing to meet each other halfway.

The openness must be two-way. “Leaders themselves need to be forthcoming about the struggles they are facing, which can encourage their employees, in turn, to open up about what they need at work, and to keep in mind that navigating a new normal has been just as tough for their managers as it has been for them. A bit of understanding will go a long way on both sides,” she said.

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