The New Face of HR in the Phygital Workplace: Q&A with Ann Marr, Executive VP, Global Human Resources, World Wide Technology

January 20, 20215:28 pm1303 views
The New Face of HR in the Phygital Workplace: Q&A with Ann Marr, Executive VP, Global Human Resources, World Wide Technology
Ann Marr, Executive VP, Global Human Resources, World Wide Technology

The concept of HR has been constantly redefined in light of the current pandemic. And with the ongoing global health situation, HR is once again undergoing another evolution with organisations shifting to a hybrid (phygital – physical and digital) workforce arrangement – a mode of work that is here to stay for the unforeseeable future. All along, company culture has primarily been based on employees being physically present in office. Now that more employees work simultaneously both in the office and from home, how can organisations ensure employee engagement and development are of top priority? 

In this interview, Ann Marr, Executive VP, Global Human Resources, World Wide Technology (WWT) shares with us insights from WWT’s award-winning approach on how HR executives should deal with the new face of digital new normal. 

Ms Marr, thank you for dedicating your time to this interview. Could you please share your experience on how you feel to be an HR leader in critical times like today? 

As today’s work landscape evolves to meet the evolving workforce demands, the role of an HR leader has become more complex and important as ever. HR leaders must consistently value add to the business and more. The best organizations are those that attract and retain the best employees, and in these critical times, HR becomes a bridge between leaders and employees within a business, moving towards a common or shared goal. In the past year, employees have had an increased amount of flexibility and transparency from upper management and we’ve done our best in assuring employees and ensuring they remain informed and engaged throughout the pandemic. In the process of adapting to these overnight changes, we’ve also become more accessible and open to feedback and learning from our employees.

What is WWT secret sauce for being recognised several times as “Great Place to Work”? And how does the company respond to the current crisis?  

I think at the core of any great workplace is a good culture. One’s company culture is imperative in the overall success and health of any organization as employees remain an organisation’s greatest asset, and they would be more motivated to thrive and give their all at work when they feel included, empowered, positive and appreciated. With global offices all over the world, WWT’s strength comes from its diverse and international workforce that comprises people from different cultures and backgrounds. We’ve put a strong emphasis on laying necessary foundations such as cultivating our core values in all of our employees. WWT’s core values, THE PATH (Trust, Humility, Embracing change, Passion, Attitude, Team player, Honesty and Integrity), are at the center of all that we do at the company and it helps employees understand exactly the kind of culture that we strive for and inadvertently, they also become custodians of our company culture which would allow them to align their personal beliefs and goals with ours.

We also have organized global cultural awareness, diversity and inclusion initiatives for all employees across offices worldwide. Additionally, we also encourage employees to embrace collaboration and build high performance teams which has enabled us to work at our best capacity during this COVID-19 crisis. More so, we have always placed a great emphasis on nurturing an engaged workforce, encouraging our employees to innovate and work creatively and providing them with the right support to ensure they can become their best selves to achieve corporate success which has helped us cope during this crisis.

We are aware that COVID-19 has impacted all industries from recruitment to talent retention. Technology has been adopted widely and remote working is inevitable. At this point, what is a critical development in HR analytics and culture of phy digital HR should adapt/adopt?  

The way we acquire talent as recent as five years ago and today has changed drastically. The work landscape today has evolved rapidly and HR has had to keep up with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics and automation to ensure we are using these capabilities to reap the most out of it for continued business success.

In a study conducted by Oracle and Future Workplace, they found that most HR practitioners welcome the integration of AI into their HR processes, with 50% of respondents currently using some form of AI at work. With businesses in the Asia Pacific region being some of the fastest changing in the world, HR should embrace the disruption of the digital workplace and be the critical lever in improving the employee digital experience by providing them with adequate support to streamline productivity. With HR analytics, HR professionals can also customise experiences that integrate with core business functions specific to each team or employee.

Following question no.3, what other measurements in manpower planning strategy HR should strengthen?  

The business and manpower planning strategies must both be aligned to achieve the same intended objectives over a period of time. With a clear roadmap ahead, resources can then be prepared and utilised in the most ideal manner. The workforce would also have to be evaluated in a holistic manner so that employees remain engaged and ensure that their needs are consistently met and that the roles they are in are best suited to their skills and capabilities.

Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said that there might be a skill gap in the current workforce and plans should be put in place to bridge this gap. What do you think is the best plan for this skill gap problem given the current crisis?  

I strongly believe business and HR leaders must reimagine and reevaluate the strategies they plan to use to prepare their workforce with future proof skills for the rapidly changing work landscape. The right investments must be made to ensure that employees have access to a multitude of new learning opportunities of both technical and soft skills such as critical thinking and empathy. I think on-the-job learning remains as critical as ever and HR leaders alike must continue advocating for lifelong learning for employees from all walks of life and of any age. The best plan for this skill gap problem especially at a time like this is not just about developing a diverse range of talents and skills but also ensuring that they are continuously empowered to learn.

Jump to cybersecurity and data privacy that has become a hot topic today, not only for IT workers but also HR professionals. What can HR do to help mitigate the fear of AI collecting too much of employee’s data?  

It is without a doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) presents a valuable opportunity to drive HR success for many businesses but as we move towards a more automated future, an integrated approach is needed to ensure that data acquired through AI is unbiased and ethically obtained. HR practitioners must enhance their digital skill sets and gain a detailed understanding of the mechanics and consequences of AI, both intended and unintended. They would also have to create a space to learn and practice these skills so that they are able to identify potential biases and hiring gaps.

AI remains a promising new capability as it would improve business outcomes immeasurably however, businesses and organisations looking to leverage on AI for HR must apply it mindfully by establishing ethical guidelines and policies focused on reliability, security, privacy, transparency and quality. Moreover, HR professionals must know that AI must amplify or value-add to the power of people and most definitely not replace them.

I must reiterate that at the end of the day, people are any organisation’s greatest asset and we will have to continue to rely on our employees to make judgments and drive decision making, supplemented by the data-driven insights and predictions generated by AI. Human involvement in the recruitment process is still of utmost importance as AI will never be able to quantify human characteristics and qualities as well as potential for growth.

Organisations should also never lose sight of the objective of collecting employees’ data through AI. It is never meant to be used to monitor the employees’ every move but it is a means to improve the employee experience and increase business profits. Moreover, to ensure that employees are able to trust their employers, HR professionals must be transparent with the data they are tracking.

Lastly, for HR professionals themselves, what new skill-set HR should master to help the future workforce?  

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, as many as 375 million people around the world will need to change occupational categories by 2030 due to automation. With that said, HR professionals must constantly reinvent themselves and reskill to meet the changing needs of the future workforce. They must become more digital, agile and data literate to add value to the organization. As we pivot towards a remote and distributed workforce, HR professionals have to be able to build strong teams, hire the right individuals and resolve or mediate disputes virtually.

With the advent of new technologies every day, there is an impertinent shift for people to become more analytical as well. Understanding how to utilise people analytics will be a highly sought after skill when the economy is hit with budget freezes, limited resourcing and financial instability. With data-driven insights, HR professionals would be able to make better decisions in terms of how people are being used while ensuring they have the right skills at the right time. These people’s analytical skills go beyond just gathering quantitative employee data, it also requires some critical skills such as being able to harness data and adapt it to different contexts and situations. With people analytics, HR professionals will have more time for strategic planning and will transform them into becoming trusted advisors of work.  

Read also: Protecting Employee’s Mental Wellbeing Through COVID-19: An Interview with Raymond Lew, CEO of Sun Life Malaysia 

About Ann Marr: 

As Vice President of Global Human Resources at WWT, Ann Marr oversees all human resources functions, which include talent management, policy development, benefits administration, training, leadership development and employee relations as well as managing the company’s supplier diversity program.  Ann has over 20 years of human resources experience and has held positions with Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Anheuser-Busch Companies. Ann is also chair of the WWT Charitable Foundation and is very active in the St. Louis community.  

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