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Digital Futures

Published on Saturday, 09 Nov 2019

To keep their organisations ahead of the competition, human resources professionals must adopt a mindset that embraces change, and they must also harness the power of digital technology. That was the consensus among thought leaders at “The Future of Work in the Digital Transformation”, an HR conference organised by Classified Post.

The half-day conference, which was held in September at the HKUST Business School Central, provided an interactive platform for speakers and HR professionals to exchange ideas. Questions and comments posted by the attendees via the Slido app were projected on a screen during the conference.

The opening keynote speech, “The Future of HR 2019: in the Know or in the No”, was delivered by Jonathan Lo, partner, HR transformation, KPMG China. Lo focused on how the global business environment has been affected by the digital transformation, as well as today’s tough economic climate. Such challenges mean that HR professionals must become more agile and responsive if they want to steer their organisations through the storm — and maybe even emerge stronger, Lo said.

 “There are unprecedented challenges in Hong Kong, but there are also opportunities for HR professionals. HR has a unique opportunity to take the lead in preparing the workforce for the future by enabling a digital transformation,” said Lo.

Lo asked attendees if they were confident that they could help their organisations adopt the disruptive technologies needed for success, and also create long-term benefits for both the workforce and the company. Findings from KPMG’s “The Future of HR 2019” global survey showed that 90 percent of respondents in mainland China and Hong Kong agreed that their workforces needed to be transformed. But only 37 percent of respondents in mainland China, and 11 percent in Hong Kong, were confident that their HR departments were able to respond to change, compared to 36 percent globally. 

“It’s essential that HR establishes a digital work plan,” Lo said. “HR professionals need to stop traditional workforce planning and start shaping their workforce for the near-term. They also need to align their company’s business and human resources needs. HR should adopt technologies to enable this,” he said.

Lo addressed how to enhance the experience of employees, and looked beyond the idea of a traditional workforce. HR should think about contingent labour and flexible forms of working, Lo said. Rapid re-skilling is a priority, he noted: “HR needs to help break down the silos. Start with small changes. After ensuring the workforce adopts the changes effectively, HR can work on upscaling.” 

“HR professionals should adopt design thinking,” Lo added. “To help their organisations gain confidence in the transformations that are taking place, it’s important for HR to begin by transforming practical tasks, while considering the needs of individual teams. HR should guide the organisations every step of the way,” he said.

Emil Chan, fintech committee chairman, Smart City Consortium, echoed Lo’s argument about the urgency of adopting a digital transformation. Chan also gave a glimpse of how digital technologies could be deployed in HR in the future. For instance, fintech could be used by recruiters to give employers an idea of the candidates’ credit histories. “Through file sharing, and the transfer of a massive amount of files, blockchain could help minimise falsified information,” Chan said.

“The increased use of digital currency for electronic payments worldwide, particularly in mainland China, will affect the payrolls and MPF arrangements,” Chan said. “Some HR executives are looking at using ‘smart appraisals’ for millennial employees, and plan to harness blockchain to ‘restructure’ the performance of individual employees over a period of time. Artificial intelligence (AI) can be applied to bookkeeping and used to manage tax returns and payroll for employees,” Chan said.

The management of employees’ retirement plans has traditionally been complicated. Raymond Ng, Vice President and Head of Employee Benefits of Manulife Hong Kong, spoke about the “Digitalised Retirement Planning” offered by the company. Manulife’s new digitalised retirement platform consists of robust systems which enhance efficiency and deliver a better user experience for both employers and employees. “We have launched a retirement plan app for mobile devices featuring MPF-related functions. It supports the selection of individual funds for MPF contributions when customers enroll in our MPF scheme,” Ng said.

Meanwhile, an all-in-one HR management software is tailored for employers to manage tax, payroll, and other functions. “The payroll function is highly flexible, and includes a daily attendance setting, calculation of MPF contributions automatic payments to banks, and preparation of taxation details for the Inland Revenue Department,” he added.

 “Manulife Hong Kong has also launched the website for individuals to set up accounts for TVC (tax deductible voluntary contributions). This helps members to save more for their retirement. Manulife provides free training and demonstrations at the client’s office to guide them through the new digital platform,” Ng said.

To harness the digital transformation effectively, HR must reshape the workplace learning culture, said Winnie Lee, associate director, learning academy, PERSOLKELLY Consulting (HK). “Workplaces are in a VUCA era, which means volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. We need to be agile if we are to enhance the corporate learning culture. For instance, this means installing a communal area for impromptu sharing sessions. This encourages employees to get together to brainstorm ideas,” Lee noted.

Enhanced agility was also recommended for communications and leadership culture. Digital technologies will make an impact, Lee noted. For instance, meetings could be videoed and shared among different divisions. “The micro-learning experience is becoming popular. Videos can be used to share ideas as well as possible solutions for specific issues. Meanwhile, in an increasingly diverse work environment, different modes of communication can be explored, and sometimes emojis can be used,” Lee said. “If HR takes the initiative to help, management will embrace agile leadership. Think of ‘fail small, fail fast, and fail forward’. Companies can learn from their mistakes to improve,” she said.

The conference ended with an experience-sharing session featuring Mildred AuYeung, senior vice president, people, at SCMP. She took the attendees through SCMP’s digital transformation, which was initiated to make the newspaper the leading source of news in the Greater China region.