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Productivity Challenges in Asia Plaguing the Modern Workforce: Q&A with Ton Dobbe from Unit4

May 22, 2017

Organisations across the globe and not just in Asia are facing challenging times, with new working arrangements coming to play, uncertainty posed by the VUCA economy and digitally disrupted times impeding performance, progress and productivity of the modern workforce.

Addressing the issues and challenges faced by the multigenerational workforce leading to decrease in productivity levels, we at HR in Asia delve deeper to understand the root cause for these growing concerns and find out measures on how to address them in an exclusive conversation with Ton Dobbe, Chief Evangelist at Unit4. Read on…

  • What are the key issues and challenges plaguing the modern workforce from achieving consistent productivity goals?

With the evolving business landscape, there are several factors hampering the productivity of the modern workforce. One of the primary challenges is the accelerated rate of change, which organisations have to cope with due to the pace of digital transformation reshaping their industry. This transformation forces them to adjust business goals, operating models (process) and underlying technology supporting success.

Further, lack of agile business models and unpreparedness of employees towards technological advancements continue to disrupt operations and consequently people productivity across organisations.

Ton Dobbe, Chief Evangelist at Unit4

Ton Dobbe, Chief Evangelist at Unit4

Also, the economy and businesses today are impacted by a shrinking and aging workforce and a growing set of protectionism regulations, meaning there is more competition for talent. This in turn has resulted into overall productivity losses in the organisation.

  • On the backdrop of an aging and shrinking workforce, how important is it for organisations in Singapore and across APAC to focus on addressing productivity challenges in the digitally disrupted times?

For the near term, the global economy faces an increasingly serious workforce crisis in both capacity and capabilities. Where maintaining consistent productivity within the organization was the target of the past, today that’s not enough anymore. Productivity levels across the entire workforce has to increase significantly due to the challenges mentioned above, but beyond for reasons of competitiveness and to meet the ever growing expectations of customers and stakeholders.

Workers need tools to collaborate effectively and efficiently, freed from non-value addition tasks that only distract people from their work.  Engaging and empowering employees, while deploying customer-centric enterprise solutions that provide tools to communicate, plan, and problem-solve, are crucial to increasing productivity among Asian organisations.

Especially for HR professionals, it is important to ensure that the internal functions across the company are scalable and flexible, and the employees are well-equipped to embrace and benefit from the evolving technological landscape in the digital era.

Companies need to understand their workforce, utilise changes within, for instance, technology and the intake of digitally advanced millennials to bring together a diverse workforce, in a collaborative environment that maximises its joined-up potential. Towards the end, an organisation’s productivity is directly dependent on how effectively it harnesses the potential of its existing and new workforce.

  • Why does Singapore and South Korea show significant productivity decline in the recent times? How can this be addressed?

The biggest factor behind this is the rise in wages due to demand for skilled labour that far exceeds supply. The surge in wages is higher than rise in productivity in these countries.  For instance, in 2015, real wage growth in Singapore was 7 percent, while productivity growth shrank by 0.1 percent.

The effect of this is a more attractive job-market and thus companies and organisations across all sectors are challenged with higher than average attrition rates. With increasing attrition follows knowledge and productivity loss.

Technology will play an important role in addressing this issue.  However, many companies are struggling with how to deploy technologies to make the workplace more productive. The urgency grows as fewer workers are available to deal with the increasing workloads.

We see four stages of sophistication- Standardise, Optimise, Predict and Drive.

Standardise and optimise: To create a solid foundation that supports future growth ambitions, the key is to first focus on stage 1 and 2. Service-intensive organisations should deploy people-centric enterprise solutions that are optimised to communicate, plan and problem-solve, in a speedy and cost-efficient manner.

They need to standardise processes and reduce reliance on manual input, beyond which they should optimise and simplify complex procedures so that employees can focus on serving the customer, and achieve their business objectives.

See: Impact of Overtime Hours on Employee Productivity in Asia

To enable them to achieve job objectives more effectively, the tools at work should also have the same intuitive and easy-to-use interface as their personal devices and applications.

Then, Advance to predict and Drive by utilising new disruptive technology to be future-ready: The future of work will be centered on a collection of new technologies such as Natural language, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). These four related developments hold the greatest promise, to boost overall worker productivity and collectively act as the most transformative force in the global economy for the future.

  • In these uncertain times, do you think it will be wise of growing organisations to challenge the status quo, be more inclusive and disrupt existing industry structures through focus on innovation?

In an era of digitisation, innovation is the only way for organisations to move forward. Without challenging the limitations of existing industry structures including its own organisational effectiveness, one may miss out on the opportunities to improve the way, the organisation works.

However, with the world now entering another turbulent era referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, employers need to adopt and embrace an all-new mindset focused on increasing the metabolic rate of the organisation, build a can-do culture where the business (not just IT) can continuously push incremental innovations, by embracing relevant technological advancements within the workforce, and a new work culture that places emphasis on continuous employee learning, nurturing and overall engagement.

In an era where change is swift and inevitable, organisations must evolve constantly in order to remain competitive, profitable and sustain growth.

  • How can organisations in Asia leverage technology such as AI, automation, cloud and analytics to improve upon performance efficiency and enhance productivity?

I see three approaches. Firstly, simply start embracing the technology shifts that are available today according to the maturity model mentioned above. 2017 has seen Natural Language, AI, VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) emerging as the biggest technological trends among organisations. These three tools deliver real, tangible value, and collectively hold the promise to boost overall workforce productivity, thus acting as the transformation driver in the emerging digital economy.

Secondly, think as regards to talent requirements, not just filling in job requirements. Robotics and AI are the most promising tools to maintain and improve productivity in the future; however they do displace a variety of tasks with the workforce, to transform job roles and profiles in the future.

We believe the future is an autonomous operation, where (ro) bots will free up service professionals from non-value adding repetitive tasks. At the same time, intelligent augmentation will allow these service professionals to deliver beyond what’s known as best-practices. The blend of human and machine working alongside will contribute towards desired increase in productivity. To maximise the impact of this shift, organisations should rethink on the kind of talents they need going forward.

Thirdly, the Asian economy is facing an increasingly serious workforce crisis in terms of both capacity and capabilities. Organisations can tackle this challenge now by creating work environments that encourage a more diversified workforce.

  • How can skill development opportunities, employee retraining programs, and assistance for the displaced contribute to enhancing productivity?

Engaged and empowered employees are keys to a business’ success. Organisations with high levels of engagement usually outperform their competitors in terms of profitability and productivity.

Millennials make up for the largest segment of Asia Pacific’s workforce. As the career expectations of this generation is more demanding, employers need to focus on engagement and constant nurturing of talent to ensure sustained commitment at work.

Like anywhere else, employers in Asia have to focus on the overall employee experience, internal mobility and career pathing, rather than just pay and benefits. Employers should start viewing employees as someone who provides unique value to an organisation.

Employees should be viewed as investments, and they must be actively steered in the direction of how they can uniquely contribute towards helping the organisation achieve its ambitious goals. Offering mentoring, coaching and custom training programs often reinforce an organisations’ commitment towards nurturing individual employees, leading to better employee satisfaction, and profitability in the long run.

Also read: Impact of Political Conversations at Work on Employee Productivity

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. 

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