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Breakfast seminar puts the focus on the future of work

As unprecedented changes fuelled by disruptive technologies and changing work preferences continue to reshape the traditional concepts of work and how work is performed, employers and employees need to adapt their mindsets or risk getting left behind.

Understanding the extent of changes and the impact that technologies and work dynamics are having on the workplace was the focus of last week’s breakfast seminar, “Future is Now: The Next Generation and the Challenge of shaping the Future of Work for Enterprise 2.0”. Co-organised by Classified Post and the leading global advisory firm, Willis Towers Watson (WTW), the seminar provided an interactive platform for participants to ask questions and pick up useful tips on various ways their organisations can adapt, recruit, develop and manage their talent to meet their organisational needs.

In her welcoming remarks, Cecilia Kwok, business director, recruitment business at the South China Morning Post outlined the challenges raised by evolving demographics in the workplace, and reminded participants that by 2030 millennials will account for about 75 per cent of the global workforce. Kwok also noted that, as the expectations and values of tech-savvy millennial employees influence attraction and retention factors, in order to attract the “right” talent to remain competitive and sustainable, employers need to think carefully about their talent practices. With a recent World Bank study predicting widespread across-the-board disruption to jobs due to automation over the next 15 years, Kwok said “the big question is, are employers equipped and ready to take on the challenge?”

Against the backdrop of the changing nature of work, Noel Goh, head of talent and rewards at WTW, outlined some of the options and challenges of getting work done in the Enterprise 2.0 environment. For example, in their hurry to execute agile, digital-led, business transformation, organisations often overlook the “people element”. “Agile transformation is not as simple as moving people into new or open-plan office space,” Goh said. For transformation to be effective, the starting point involves changing employee behaviour and mindsets.

“Mindset change needs to happen before digital or structural changes,” Goh explained. “We know how difficult it can be to change the mindset of a family member, so it is easy to understand the challenge this represents across an entire organisation,” noted Goh. He also said the key to building a transformative, agile organisation is through people strategies that clearly communicate the planned changes and generate employee buy-in by ensuring that everyone knows they have a specific role to play. “As transformation takes place, the goal is that employees don’t feel it is being forced upon them, but they are part of the process,” said Goh, adding that suspicion and insecurity caused by digital transformation, for example, the fear of job losses due to automation, also need to be managed.

Because the HR function touches every area of an organisation, Goh said, it is vital that HR professionals ensure that employees are equipped with the skills needed to be a structural part of the transformation process. He also stressed the importance for employees to take some responsibility for future-proofing their own careers. For instance, with artificial intelligence creating new efficiencies and possibilities in the workplace, employees need to broaden their skill sets to enable human and machine collaboration. “There are plenty of online courses that individuals can sign up for, many of which are free, that teach coding and other useful skills,” Goh suggested.

Goh emphasised the importance of commitment by senior management to develop strategies that drive successful change to enable organisations to transform and become agile.

“An agile organisation is not a place where employees send a text to someone a few seats away asking if they would like to join them for lunch,” explained Goh. He said agility means, rather, having the people with the skill sets to collaborate as teams, and work on projects run by different leaders. As an example of a successful transformation into a technology-focused, agile organisation, Goh cited the Singapore-headquartered DBS Bank, which under the leadership of its CEO approached the transformation process from the standpoint of a 22,000 headcount start-up enterprise. “Ahead of the actual transformation process, the CEO himself encouraged employees to use social media and different technologies,” said Goh.

Goh also explained how employers need to think carefully about the way they engage and generate loyalty among a growing workforce of free-agent or contingent workers who choose whom they want to work with and shape their own career experiences in the so-called gig economy.

With the gig economy enabling employers to access wider and more diverse talent to meet their business demands, Goh said companies need to ensure free agents are respected and feel valued for the contribution they are making. “Regardless of employment status, it’s important that employees feel they have a positive experience,” said Goh.

Goh also supervised an interactive session with seminar participants using Larry Senn’s mood elevator system to influence conversations and boost motivation. Often referred to as the “father of corporate culture”, Senn based his mood elevator concept on switching low level emotions like worried, irritated to higher mood level concepts associated with being resourceful, inspired, energetic and curious.

Expanding on the theme of changes in the workplace, Brian Sy, global data services leader at WTW said that. while it seems only a short while ago employers were trying to work out the best ways to recruit and retain employees from the millennial generation, they now need to think about the work expectations and preferences of Generation Z, the succeeding generation, also known as iGen. As the first truly digital generation, iGen currently account for a fraction of the Hong Kong workforce, but by 2026, according to the Labour department, their presence will increase to about 15 per cent and by 2036, will account for an equal split between Gen X, millennials and iGen.

Sy said that, while it is generally unhelpful to stereotype any particular generation, it is worth remembering what was once considered “unreasonable” demands associated with millennials, such as flexible working hours, open-plan offices and workplaces with bean-bag chairs, have become favoured workplace practices.

Sy said how organisations manage the next wave of human capital will have a bearing on their long-term success. “Insights about work and career preferences can make a difference when employers are communicating their employee value proposition,” explained Sy.

For example, statistics show that 36 per cent of iGen members are concerned with their personality matching with the company culture and jobs they apply for.

Meanwhile, 61 per cent believe it is important to identify the career they want to pursue before they enter college and 36 per cent are concerned about their career development opportunities. At the same time, 50 per cent of iGen members have entrepreneurial aspirations to run their own business.

“Interestingly, while the iGen are true digital natives, 84 per cent prefer face-to-face communication with their managers,” noted Sy, who says this is important for employers to remember when considering effective ways to manage employee engagement.

Equally important is the average eight second attention span iGen members have compared to the average 12 second attention span for millennials. “In terms of on-boarding, where there is a tendency to put a lot of information in front of new recruits at one time, employers could consider breaking down the information into small pieces,” suggested Sy.

Adding workplace insights, Amy Tran, associate director, Vitality strategy and business management at insurance firm AIA provided details of AIA Vitality’s comprehensive survey of employees’ health and well-being across a range of organisations. The findings give employers useful insights to form strategies that can help employees achieve healthy living goals and improve productivity.