Rethinking workplace practices for the New World of Work

February 02, 2016 | 16:51
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Organisation leaders need to embrace remote work styles among employees as a way to enhance productivity.

Five years ago, it was inconceivable that the “sharing economy” would take center stage in consumerism today. Companies such as Uber and Airbnb have been built on minimal fixed assets and rely heavily on a mobile workforce and technology that make collaborative consumption much easier among consumers and even internally.

This shift has set the stage for a new knowledge and services-based economy, and also the course for digital transformation of businesses today. However, it seems that businesses in Asia are not always keeping up; with employees feeling that their needs are not being met.

A recent Microsoft online survey surveyed 5,000 working professionals across 13 countries in Asia and found that only 46 out of every 100 employees in Vietnam felt their employers are enabling them to be productive, collaborative and innovative, whilst ensuring personal wellbeing in the changing world of work.

Offices now have to change with the ever evolving demands of work, which today, is increasingly globalised and always on-demand. 80 per cent of respondents in the survey are already spending at least a day in their five-day work week outside of the office.

Today, many are turning to technology to cope with the shift, however, becoming a digital enterprise takes more than just providing tools or automating manual processes.

As we head into the new year, companies need to rethink workplace policies to better equip and empower their employees for what we term as the “New World of Work” in order to stay relevant to the marketplace and talents, as well as to ensure business success in the new economy.

Not work-life balance, but work-life integration

An organisation that takes care of its employees, where it has policies in place that ensure employee welfare as well as supporting the varied work lifestyles of its employees, will result in employees who are able to better integrate work and life. And with technology enabling mobility and instant connectivity, the notion of integrating work into life and vice versa seems to be the new normal moving forward.

What was interesting was that the study found that 66 per cent needed to be in office to get work done because they needed access to equipment and tools that are available in the office only; and 23 per cent said that they were doing so just to be close to their colleagues and managers. This clearly highlights a mind-set and operational gap that needs to be addressed in order for companies to reap productivity gains.

From a people management perspective, we must work hand in hand as leaders to better empower employees to enable remote work to happen and to improve productivity within the organisation. Here are three ways to go about rethinking workplace policies for the New World of Work:

1. Manage performance, not presence

As the saying goes, “Work is not a place you go to, but a thing you do.” However, for many in Asia, especially so for respondents in our study from China, Hong Kong and Korea, face time with managers and colleagues seems to be extremely necessary and a key reason as to why employees feel the need to be present at their workplace at any point in time. In fact, research has found that the notion of telecommuting may be hazardous to employee evaluations, whereby the concept of passive face time, which is nothing more than just showing up in the office, could impact perceptions of one’s performance at the workplace.

With work becoming increasingly on-demand and on-the-go, it is also important for managers to learn to lead dispersed teams effectively, and this can be done when clear key performance indicators (KPIs) for teams are set from the get-go. It is also important to focus evaluations on performance and outcomes. This way, employees are aware of expectations and their performance can be tracked against deliverables rather than attendance.

One meeting best practice that we do at Microsoft is to always provide a Skype for Business link for all meeting attendees – internal or external – so that it enables all parties to participate in quick discussions and decision making processes, while eliminating the time to travel.

2. Empower collaboration across teams

The study showed that 51 per cent of all respondents feel that the ability to collaborate instantly with colleagues would most benefit the company that they work for today. Empowering collaboration builds a team-oriented workforce where employees feel vested in the growth and performance of the company – and this goes beyond meetings and brainstorms. One way is to look at creating or remodelling workspaces that foster collaboration and creativity as well as to leverage collaboration tools which break down the siloes between teams.

At Microsoft, we’ve adopted the New World of Work open plan office concept where there are a number of different work spaces for varying workstyles, including café-style booths, standing desks as well as drop-in rooms for virtual meetings. A post-implementation survey conducted in the Singapore office in 2012 found that 49 per cent of employees collaborated more with their colleagues, and 77 per cent saw an improvement in their work environment.

Leading pan-Asian insurance group, AIA Group, has also recently introduced Office 365 to more than 20,000 users across the Asia Pacific region where it operates. By leveraging the cloud productivity tool, AIA is able to overcome language barriers employees face and they can now freely exchange ideas and collaborate in real time. Today, a manager speaking Mandarin in Beijing uses Yammer to connect with his colleagues speaking Malay in Malaysia or Vietnamese in Vietnam.

3. Democratise access to technology

From the study, a majority of respondents felt the need to be in office as they required access to equipment and tools that are available in the workplace only. In addition, respondents who held managerial positions within their organization seemed to be better equipped to respond to internal and external stakeholders, with 53 per cent indicating that they were well or very well equipped in doing so, compared to 40.7 per cent of non-managerial respondents.

With mobile and cloud technologies being pervasive today, it is important to champion for such tools to be made widely available for every employee to work flexibly and remotely. At the same time, it is important to also ensure that your company’s data is secure and protected. With Office 365, not only is the service security-hardened, it also provides admin and user controls to help organizations meet compliance requirements at no additional costs incurred for on-premise infrastructure.

It is important to empower employees in a way that will help contribute to productivity gains for the organisation without being restrictive and prescriptive in managing employees’ performance. There’s also a significant element of trust which needs to be built; for managers who empower and trust employers to work towards defined goals and for employees to gain trust with their leaders who focus on the things that matter. Ultimately, the shift towards a New World of Work needs to stem from rethinking workplace culture and practices for the digital economy to truly enable the success of an organisation.

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