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Flexible Working Culture and the Need for Change: Exclusive Q&A with Mei Lin Low at PolycomEmployee Relations Interviews Productivity RETAIN May 15, 2017
With new working models coming to play, and rise in the gig economy revolutionising workplace models, we at HR in Asia get an exclusive futuristic outlook on the impact of flexible working culture across organisations in Asia Pacific through an interview with Mei Lin Low, Director, APAC Solutions Marketing, Polycom Inc.
Elaborating on the findings presented in the company’s Work Anywhere survey, Mei Lin Low talks about the challenges faced by organisations towards adopting the flexible working practices, and the need for employees to overcome fears of working remote, through use of efficient collaboration tools that help bridge gaps in employee communication with teams dispersed across geographies.
With more technologically-enabled environments empowering today’s workforce offering added convenience to work anywhere, it is required of HR managers to stay abreast of the futuristic tech trends and upgrade their skills to match the accelerated rate of change. Workplace of the future will see demand for more collaborative tools, to maximise organisational productivity and efficiency. Read on…
- What will be the impact of the rise in gig economy on emergence of new working models on the world of work and HR workings in future?
The workforce is definitely changing. The rise of temporary positions and organisations having contracts with independent workers for short-term engagements has existed for some time.
If one thing these “disruptors” have whether it’s the rise of the gig economy, emergence of new working models or the contingent workforce, they are all brought about by technology and how business models have evolved to accommodate different and immediate demands in skills, knowledge and expertise.
The other factor that is also changing the game of the workforce is flexible working. It has evolved to meet organisational needs of talent retention, work-life balance and workplace attractiveness.
Organisations are open to providing more flexible options in terms of where, when and how work is being done. There is a mindset shift that work is measured on output and achieving key goals rather than being physically present and clocking 9am to 5pm work shift.
This is amplified in our recent Work Anywhere Survey where we found that, flexible working has been a growing trend particularly in Asia with an average of 73 percent of Asian companies offering flexible working arrangements with India, China and Singapore being the highest at 91 percent, 85 percent, and 71 percent respectively.
HR practitioners are going to have to lead the way in terms of open-mindedness. They will have to be ahead of the curve in terms of strategic and practical implementation of intricacies of new working models. There are three factors that will have an impact on HR practitioners:
- Skills needed: HR practitioners need to stay abreast of the latest trends in terms of policies around compensation, benefits, training and development programmes, contract agreements, etc. They need to build pilots. Rapidly prototype – plan, trial and fail fast, in order to succeed quickly as the organization scales.
- Internal Communication: They will need to educate and guide managers and employees on the boundaries of new working models. It is critical to communicate why new working models are being adopted, the Metrics/Key Performance Indexes (KPIs) that the company wishes to achieve and the measures that will be taken if these metrics are not achieved. It is important to distinguish that this is not an entitlement. It is a partnership that requires commitment from both the organisation and the employee, which is mutually beneficial.
- Technology: Solutions such as video collaboration can bridge the huge divide that organisations face in terms of communication, expectations and presence especially when hiring or engaging the contingent workforce. Technology such as video collaboration allows virtual face-to-face meetings across distances, while retaining the “human feel” of connecting.
This will make people feel closer and have more interactions rather than the conventional conference calls. This is an important aspect as organisations continue to engage the contingent workforce as it can help break the barriers of culture and communication.
- What are the pros and cons of flexible working, and how is this growing trend influencing or impacting the work-life balance of professionals in Asia?
This question was precisely what we sought to uncover in Polycom’s Anywhere Working survey. Flexible working is becoming a need rather than a nice to have for organisations. It is becoming the basis for digitally transformed businesses.
Having control over work-life balance is a major advantage of flexible working. When surveyed around 70 percent of respondents agreed that having control over their own work life balance is the biggest advantage of flexible working.
National issues such as the ageing population and a national push for work-life balance also contribute towards the need for flexible working. An example would be, for those with dependents (elderly, children), a major advantage for them is that they are able to take care of their dependents and still work productively.
This is especially true for Asian countries such as China (90 percent of them have dependents) and India (77 percent have dependents). The other advantage of flexible working is the ability to address the main challenge for organisations – attracting and retaining talent. Through flexible working, businesses can tap on a bigger talent pool.
Flexible working also attracts the millennial generation who are open to the concept of working from anywhere and digitally savvy. The challenge we see is the mindset that is still present in Asia. The idea that clocking in from 9am to 5pm, and physically being present in the office means you are hardworking.
This is a sentiment shared particularly with millennials, which is clearly demonstrated through our survey, where 62 percent millennials are concerned that, they would not be perceived as hard-working if they were not in the office. This can lead them to overcompensate with unproductive overwork.
A way to address this is to set measured tasks with achievable goals and have guidelines or protocols on working anywhere as a solution. As the saying goes “No human is an island,” flexible working has the tendency to be faced with the challenge of lack of interaction with fellow colleagues to build relationships. However, having access to the right collaboration tools would allay these fears.
Based on our survey, 85 percent said that video technology has helped them, get to know their colleagues more personally, this is the top of the list when it comes to tools that they need to overcome the fear of “not seen as working hard.”
- How can HRs help build and manage a fluid multi-generational workforce in these disruptive times?
The characteristic of a multi-generational workforce is that, there are varying expectations, work styles, and delivery.
Firstly, it is very important to understand the audience you have at your workplace. For example, in our Work AnywhereSurvey, we found out that, 45 percent of our millennial respondents had balancing children and careers, as their main challenge and focus. While half of the baby boomers worry that anywhere working would mean that they do not build relationships as well with their colleagues.
It is also important to set realistic expectations and take baby steps when introducing change, as different generations will react differently to the change and having an idea what you want your workplace of the future to be like, will help you paint a clearer plan about what it’s going to take, to get there.
Secondly, communication and allowing an environment for easy collaboration is critical to ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page and working towards the same goal. It’s about setting aside differences and boiling it down to the essentials of deliverables, dates and expected quality of work. And for that, there has to be a level set and appropriate monitoring at all stages of work.
Thirdly, investment in the different generations. Investing in creating training programmes that are customised to each generation, team building programmes to foster bonding for example, as they say employees are your greatest assets. This is why technology such as video collaboration is vital. It allows easy communication and collaboration, while providing the “human” feel that connects people and brings them together across distances and cultures. HR teams need to recognise that there is technology out there that is able to make this a reality.
- Do regular full-time employees and those in C-suite leadership face threats from the growing mobile workforce in Asia?
The reality is that anyone who is inflexible and unable, or unwilling to adapt to new working models or new styles of working, will feel threatened in some way. There will always be a segment of the workforce that has to be regular, full-time and committed to the organisation, similarly for the C-Suite leadership. However, the job description of these full-time roles may look very different in the future.
The best thing that an active workforce participant can do, is to be willing to adapt continually, be skilled in technology and tools that enable greater employment flexibility and the ability to work anywhere at any time, and to be aware of your value in new working models.
We see this shift in mindset happening gradually as based on our Survey, as high as 75 percent of C-suite respondents feel that they are more productive when working anywhere, and 65 percent of them feel that challenges such as putting in more unproductive hours can be overcome with the right technology.
Work can be done anywhere and not confined to the four walls of an office cubicle. It is about the ability to choose where we want to work and how we want to work.
- Explain the role of technology as an enabler and facilitator to develop employee relationships, boost synergies in working as a team on the virtual environment across geographies?
It wouldn’t be possible to work anywhere without ready adoption of new technologies that open the door to better ways of collaboration. Technology has made it possible for teams to brainstorm in huddle rooms within an office building, or in a virtual face-to-face setting.
Video conferencing emerges as an essential tool that enables real-time, effective communication across borders and time zones. According to our survey, 61 percent of those surveyed believe that having the right technology would solve any issues remote workers may face such as building relationship with colleagues.
Looking at other parts of Asia such as China and Singapore, wherein 87 percent and 80 percent of employees work with someone who is not based in the same office. Luckily, they are also the most likely to use video collaboration tools (with 92% and 81% respectively) such as conference calls and video calls, when communicating with colleagues who are based in a different location.
- How important is it for C-level executives and the HR management to stay informed about technologies, to facilitate right deployment of tools and overcome flexible working challenges?
It is critical for both C-level executives and the HR management to stay informed about the technologies that can help facilitate and enable flexible working options. Even though the onus of overcoming flexible working challenges lies with HR, the C-level executives play a crucial role in supporting and empowering HR to navigate the organisation through changes and deployment.
In addition to the support from C-level executives, HR also needs business partners such as the Information Technology (IT) department to facilitate the right deployment of technology tools, training, appropriate usage. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) have to be implemented to ensure the right usage and deployment.
HR also needs the support of the Facilities Department, to facilitate the provision of the right environment to leverage on the technology tools to ensure productivity. For example, Facilities and IT should advise HR on the guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for home working environments – basic equipment, bandwidth requirements, reasonable claimable expenses/reimbursements, security protocols, etc.
HR management and C-level executives have to be seen as a unified team that is promoting flexible working options and understand the benefits that flexible working brings to the organisation.
They also need to stay relevant on technologies that can enable flexible working. Video conferencing for example is known to increase productivity, connect widely dispersed teams, improve efficiency, increase team morale, the ability to collaborate and communicate across borders and cultures.
- What will the workplace of the future look like and how will the role of HR transform in the times to come?
The workplace of the future is about a mindset rather than a destination or a place. It is about the ability to choose where we want to work and how we want to work. Workplace of the future will see more collaboration tools needed to maximise organisational productivity and efficiency.
With more technology enabled environments and devices – where smart devices like your phone or laptop are equipped with collaboration tools, which will enable you to connect with your colleagues, peers and customers, regardless of where they are based across borders and cultures.
HR practitioners need to be at the forefront in having an open mind, in order to successfully implement a flexible working model in the organisation. There will be a wider spread of companies that have adopted, or might not have adopted futuristic policies and HR’s role will be to manage these organisations while transitioning into the flexible working arrangement model.
Content rights: This exclusive interview content is produced by HR in ASIA. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in this interview is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content.
Feature image credit: pexels.com
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