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.
People Moves APAC: Lenovo, HSBC AM, Morgan Stanley, Zafin
In a week where Lenovo makes a raft of new APAC leadership appointments to support its goal of expanding its offerings in the region, we round up the latest executive moves across Asia Pacific.
Eddie Ang appointed head of relationship segment at Lenovo APAC
Former Lenovo Singapore general manager Eddie Ang has been promoted to head of the relationship segment to oversee key business relationships and further lead the original equipment manufacturer, profit manager, and workstation teams. With more than two decades of experience in the IT industry, including 14 years at Lenovo where he has worked in executive positions covering APAC, Ang has strong regional knowledge and a track record of crafting and implementing strategies to deliver incremental growth in market share, revenue and operating income. Prior to Lenovo, Ang spent nearly a decade with Dell Technologies in both Japan and Malaysia.
Seok Poh Yeoh to head up credit research for HSBC in Asia
Seasoned finance exec Seok Poh Yeoh is set to take the reins for credit research across Asia for HSBC Asset Management, where she will strengthen the integration within the firm’s global investment platform and support sustainable investment efforts. With 16 years of industry experience, including at Credit Suisse and more than a decade at HSBC AM, which she joined as a financial analyst in 2012, Yeoh has been instrumental in strengthening credit research processes in Asia, according to HSBC. According to Elizabeth Allen, head of Asian fixed income at HSBC AM, Yeoh’s “analytical and research background, combined with her sustained involvement in the global fund offerings, make her the ideal candidate to lead the Asian research platform”.
Bilal Al-Ali to join Morgan Stanley as head of structured sales
Former UBS head of structured sales Bilal Al-Ali is set to join Morgan Stanley as head of structured sales for APAC. With 14 years of experience in quantitative research spanning both London and Hong Kong and across banks including ABN AMRO, RBS, BNP Paribas and UBS, Al-Ali has been with UBS in Asia for more than a decade most recently serving as Head of APAC Structured Sales.
Nicholle Linder appointed SVP, APAC at fintech Zafin
With the aim of spearheading growth across APAC, Nicholle Lindner has been appointed as Senior Vice President for global fintech leader Zafin. Bringing more than two decades of experience in the Asia Pacific financial services industry to the fintech table, Linder’s “extensive industry experience, innovative thinking and deep understanding of the industry’s digital transformation needs make her the perfect leader to deliver Zafin’s value proposition in the region”, says Jay Ryan, Chief Revenue Officer at Zafin. Lindner has held strategic leadership roles with leading Australian financial institutions including Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Group. Most recently, Lindner served as senior director at Capgemini Financial Services where she developed strategy and new business initiatives for the firm’s financial services practice in APAC.
Neil Macdonald to head up APAC’s asset managers for State Street
Former KPMG head Neil Macdonald has been appointed by State Street to the firm’s newly created role of APAC head of asset managers, where he will be responsible for leading the company’s engagement strategy for asset manager clients across Asia Pacific, from strategic direction to solutions structuring. Macdonald has a prestigious past, having served as chief operating officer for BlackRock’s institutional clients across EMEA, and more recently serving as COO of global investments solutions at JP Morgan Asset Management. According to Mostapha Tahiri, State Street’s APAC CEO, “Neil’s experience and deep understanding of asset managers’ needs will strengthen our positioning to be an essential partner and trusted advisor for asset managers in the region”.
Priscilla Sims Brown named Amalgamated Financial’s next president and CEO
Joining from the Commonwealth Bank in Australia, Priscilla Sims Brown has been named the next president and CEO of Amalgamated Financial. Brown has more than three decades of experience in the financial services industry, having held leadership roles in firms spanning banking, wealth management, retirement and insurance.
Joining from the Commonwealth Bank in Australia, where she served as group executive of marketing and corporate affairs, overseeing end-to-end marketing, branding, public affairs and social policy, Brown’s previous experience includes senior positions at ACA Financial, Sun Life Financial as well as serving as CMO at Amerihealth/Caritas and as CEO of a digital health insurance brokerage startup, Emerge.me. According to Lynne Fox, interim president and CEO of Amalgamated, “Priscilla is exactly what we need to take Amalgamated to its next stage: a highly experienced and inspiration leader whose vision aligns perfectly with ours, and we are thrilled that she has agreed to serve as our next CEO”.