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Transforming the Workplace

Innovation and technology have not only shaped our lives, they have transformed the way the corporate world does business. At the recent HR Seminar, experts and thought leaders discussed the impact of innovation and technology on the property and construction sector, a once-traditional sector that is no longer free from digital disruption. The afternoon seminar attracted HR executives excited by the opportunity to feel the industry’s pulse. During the networking sessions, attendees also sought opinions and helpful tips from the expert speakers.

Leo Lo, CEO of Fonto Holdings, and founder of Asia PropTech, opened the seminar. A surveyor who became an entrepreneur and property technology (PropTech) advocate, Lo set the scene by assessing the regional impact and possibilities of PropTech.

“The concept has fully taken off in Europe and the US, with global PropTech hubs emerging in cities like London and New York. But a hub has not yet formed here in Asia,” said Lo. “The PropTech space in Asia lags one or two years behind the space in US and Europe. Consequently, Southeast Asia is a sea of opportunities. That’s exemplified by the Chinese investor who “parked” $33 billion in overseas real estate in 2016, and the fact that three of the top five most heavily funded PropTech companies operate out of the China market.”

“There have been lots of discussions about PropTech during the last two years, but I can’t see anything that has made an impact,” said Lo. “That doesn’t mean we can ignore Proptech. I believe that innovation and technology will disrupt the property industry within five to 10 years. For instance, the Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic now for property and building management companies. As a result of this, many roles will change, and this will affect how HR allocates resources. Hong Kong’s PropTech fell behind because real estate talent lacks the entrepreneurial spirit of other industries. There has been no desire to nurture or fuel innovation within that sector,” said Lo.

IT professionals prefer to work in other sectors, he noted. “IT professionals are very much in demand in the retail, finance, and tourism sectors, so they seldom get involved in property and construction. This is discouraging, and explains why the industry relies on talent from overseas, notably Europe and Southeast Asia,” said Lo.

Ir Ben Li, Immediate Past Chairman, Electronics and Communications Section Committee of Engineering and Technology (IET) Hong Kong, talked about career opportunities and challenges in the era of AI-driven smart city development. “AI, big data, cloud computing, IoT, and smart city developments are hot topics in government, entrepreneurship, academia, and research institutes, and the general public are talking about them too,” he said. “AI has become instrumental in career planning because it fundamentally reshapes how people and technology work together. It’s the engine that empowers efficiency. It makes decisions and achieves goals across a wide range of sectors,” he said.

Different levels of AI adoption require different talents, Ir Li noted. “All skills will gradually become outdated and expire, so staff should regularly update their skillsets. In the era of AI, agility is the key. We need to keep learning and adapting to drive our careers forward. Still, although AI is better at some tasks, it certainly can’t replace human workers,” he said. Natural evolution provides an example, he added: “Take note of this advice from Charles Darwin, author of On the Origins of Species: ‘It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent but the one most responsive to change’,” he said.

Ir Raymond Lui Wai-kau, Information and Communications Technology Section Chairman 2018-19, said that ICT professionals are regarded as silent, or low-profile, contributors, so people are not aware of them. But they leave their footprints in many areas of everyday life, including telecommunications, the railways, and the energy sector. “The misperception about an absence of ICT professionals in the city really upsets me, and this explains why talent is imported from outside. It is untrue, and I hope that mindset will change within the community,” Lui said.

Innovation and digital transformation have certainly impacted HR’s hiring and talent-management strategies. Akina Ho, Head of Digital Transformation and Innovation at Great Eagle Holdings, said that the fourth Industrial revolution, that of disruptive technologies, is taking place right now. “In the past, we looked for talent with a specific skillset. But now we are assessing an overall ability to help facilitate change in line with the current industrial revolution. HRs must become transformative and become the heart of the organisation. They must bring in new blood and develop new skillsets for existing employees to prepare them for the future. Without HR, and the necessary talent, the evolution and success of this fourth industrial revolution will not occur,” Ho said.

Ho suggested 10 things that HRs need to do to stay competitive. She advised HRs to change the way they find talent, by expanding the use of channels like social media platforms such as LinkedIn. HRs need to do more than just post job advertisements in newspapers, she said. Ho said HRs should concentrate on a candidate’s attitude and attributes rather than specific skills. They should also conduct interviews by mixing traditional questions with tougher ones to assess the way interviewees think, and to see if they can think out of the box.

HRs should gather data by looking beyond the application form, Ho said. That is, they should check applicants’ social media accounts to ensure they are aligned with the company culture, and consider the use of a chatbot to continuously obtain feedback, and to reduce the time needed to answer simple HR questions. HR should also digitise new employee onboarding and orientation procedures by creating video games or adopting augmented reality or virtual reality, and perhaps follow-up on orientation until probation has been completed.

HRs should develop new approaches to staff exit plans, Ho said. When good employees leave, ask what it would take for them to come back. The answer will illustrate what the ex-employee thinks is wrong with the company. This is a good way to find out the reason that people are leaving the company.

Ho said that HRs should work with different business units and departments within the organisation, and not just take orders from them. “Change within an organisation starts with the talent, and this influences a shift in the company culture and mindset. HR needs to initiate a change in its mindset to proactively seek out important talent, and switch from reactive methods to proactive ones. It needs to be a driver of change, and transformation,” Ho said.