2021: the changing landscape of workplace transformation
With the outbreak of COVID-19 back in March 2020 causing organisations around the world to rapidly transform their workplace environments, it is clear that whilst the topics of employee experience, digital tools and remote working, as well as mental health and safety have always been important factors, they have certainly been brought under the microscope since the pandemic began.
As a result of this increased focus, KPMG states that with discussions “moving beyond attracting and retaining talent to enabling and supporting a fully remote workforce with capabilities and technologies that are now deemed mission-critical,” organisations that stand to success in the new remote workplace environment “will plan for the entire workplace ecosystem and equip employees to support business operations.”
With this in mind Business Chief has asked Aditya Arora, CEO of Teleperformance India, six questions on how the working environment has transformed following the impact of COVID-19.
The pre-pandemic work environment
What was the work environment like prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020?
In the pre-COVID world, organisations were typically designing their business models based on the convention that large and flourishing office spaces were critical to success. Before the advent of the crisis, productivity, satisfaction, and corporate culture relied heavily on in-person meetings and camaraderie, with flexible working and new technologies adopted at possibly slower rates than now.
What were the core focuses for HR functions when it came to their workplace strategy?
Before we were thrust into heightened virtual living, HR departments were focused on increasing employee proximity to enable face-to-face interactions. Slow uptake of flexible working and location restraints also meant recruitment functions largely ignored untapped talent pools and relied heavily on available human capital.
Having never experienced, nor planned for such complex circumstances, HR teams then use it to focus on designing in-office employee experiences and engagement. The pandemic enforced a need for HR functions to quickly re-align and establish social connections with employees, regardless of location. This new wave of thinking opened a gateway to global workforce alignment for organisations – one that was previously unimagined pre-crisis.
What were the top emerging trends for the workplace environment prior to COVID-19?
Expedited by the pandemic, a trend gathering pace was the adoption of data analytics to closely understand the employee experience. The role of employers and HR executives was also expanding, to better account for employees’ physical and mental well-being and extend interpersonal support to those facing difficulties. Building an engaged, gender-smart workforce, and a culture of diversity and inclusion had just started gaining momentum. This contributed hugely to an overarching trend before the crisis – increasing employee and client proximity – under the influence that corporate wellness and culture is dependent on physical location.
With the advent of COVID-19 and the subsequent boom of work-from-home (WFH), these priorities did not change – rather how organisations approach them has changed. HR executives are now leveraging technology to enhance human connection, have more conversations, and create deeper connections with teams across the globe.
Post-pandemic workplace transformation
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, how has the work environment changed?
The pandemic accelerated and amplified the trend of digital adoption and the concept of WFH. While digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have been drivers for disruption for several years, the COVID crisis sharply increased the need and urgency to transform. WFH models were deployed swiftly and efficiently to bring about a paradigm shift in our end-to-end business approach.
Business, tech, and HR leaders who never deemed remote working to be a priority are rolling out more permanent WFH policies. Trying new collaboration tools and technologies is key to ensuring organisations are connecting with their employees and bringing together new team members remotely. As we enter 2021, leaders need to continually reimagine and reinvent business and workforce strategies, with an emphasis on WFH models being the new business continuity strategy for all organisations and clients alike.
How have workplace strategies evolved since the outbreak of COVID-19 and how have their core focuses shifted?
The uncertainty of the past year has awakened executives to the importance of ensuring predominantly geographically dispersed teams can still do their work effectively. As employees picked up their laptops and headed home to work for the foreseeable future, think tanks were set up to reimagine the workforce planning, performance management and experience – all while acting swiftly to protect workers’ safety and emotional wellbeing. Pre-existing workplace trends accelerated by years, as organisations underwent digital transformation in the space of months – if not days – starting with Cloud technology.
Providing businesses with a lifeline, cloud platforms are effectively supporting remote working and have diminished the collaboration challenges of remote work – enabling employees to operate with the same flexibility, productivity, and quality. Whilst the cloud lays the foundation for effective operations, the focus is now on people, with an emphasis on leaders strengthening their company culture to sustain employee motivation, engagement, and socialness in the remote environment.
What are the top three trends that you see gaining traction in 2021?
With business reaction to the pandemic leaning heavily on cloud, we can expect to see this technology efficiently support remote work and continue to gather pace in 2021. Combining the best of in-office and WFH teams, a blended approach will help drive organisational resilience amidst such unpredictable market dynamics and achieve future disaster preparedness to continue to create consistent experiences for end customers.
Similarly, organisations will look to ramp up their investment in robotic process automation (RPA) to handle fluctuating enquiries in a more cost-efficient manner. Automating back-office support will become a growing priority for businesses, as leaders strive to streamline workflows and bolster a resilient human and machine workforce while resources are limited. Technology-enabled solutions coupled with effective human interactions will deliver long-term business benefits.
The new year will also be an opportunity for businesses to reflect on the quality of team cohesion that they were able to achieve throughout the pandemic. Collaboration will persist as the cornerstone of creating a socially enriched working environment.
Could HR technology solve Hong Kong’s culture of overworking
It has long been common practice for employees across the world to work beyond their contracted hours, with staff feeling pressured to put the company’s needs before their own. But this can have a consequential impact on employees’ health, as long working hours create a poor work-life balance and demotivational working environment. This is particularly evident in workforces across Hong Kong, where employees are working an additional 24 hours during the week due to the rising issue of presenteeism. As a result, productivity in the region has dropped, and the health and wellbeing of workers have suffered.
Technological advancements have created a culture where staff feel obliged to be ‘always on’, and respond to calls and e-mails when they’re out of the office. The demand for increased working hours means that businesses are losing capacity through burnt-out staff who are struggling to care for their health while meeting the requirements of their work. Companies in Hong Kong that were once able to retain their staff through an attractive salary package must now consider expanding the perks they offer their workforce that can help support them in achieving a better work-life balance.
Although the UK still has progress to make, workplaces in Hong Kong can learn from businesses in the UK which have made considerable efforts to identify causes of stress at work and taken the steps to reduce these. UK employers are prioritising the wellbeing of their employees and through adopting policies such as flexible working, working from home and offering access to health and wellness tools, they are able to provide enhanced support to their team.
By incorporating a health engagement platform into a human resources strategy, HR leaders in Hong Kong can create a positive working environment and improve morale within their team, as well as encourage and incentivise staff to take action and introduce healthy habits into their daily routines. This will also assist in tackling a disengaged workforce, reducing absenteeism and boosting motivation – all factors that have been a problem in Hong Kong’s working culture.
Employees both in the UK and Asia should also take the steps to look after their own health so they don’t fall victim to burnout. Employers should encourage their staff to take regular breaks throughout their day, whether it’s to practise mindfulness techniques or simply take a walk. Stepping away from their desk and spending time outside will help to reduce stress and clear their mind.
Transforming attitudes to work in Asia is not a straightforward task and it will take time for age-old cultural and business practices to change. However, there are steps businesses can take to aid employees in living a happier, healthier lifestyle. Through implementing a wellness plan, businesses can support their employees in pursuing a healthy work-life balance and encourage them to improve their lifestyle both in and out of work. Not only will this create happier employees, but it will also lead to running a more profitable business as staff take control of their health.