The coronavirus pandemic threw a spanner into the way of working for many organisations. As we slowly step out of the pandemic, and can look at how things unfolded retrospectively, it is clear that organisations that maintained a people-centric and futuristic approach came out on top.
With our eyes set clearly on the future, intending to understand what it holds, we spoke to Trista Fu, head of HR, SEA, Amgen, a leading biotechnology company, about workforce trends, Amgen’s learnings from the pandemic and how it propagates an employee-friendly culture in its offices across the globe:
Q: The term “Future of Work” gets thrown around a lot these days. What does “Future of Work” mean to you?
To me “future of work” is about an organisation recognising that corporate culture is shaped by their people, instead of there being a top-down approach forcing people to accept the culture. It is about the importance of actively reimagining key aspects of work life to support our evolving workforce to thrive in a new working environment.
There are two aspects: the first one is empowerment. I think an organisation achieves its optimal potential when its people feel they are empowered to express themselves and their diverse talents can be accepted at work. This creates a sense of belonging in the workplace. The second thing comes from the management. I think management also needs to change their way of thinking about how to evolve, the way they work, their team. They need to explore and adopt new tools and solutions to help create great alignment, and be flexible and foster a strong connection with the people. And this includes actively listening to people.
Q: Keeping up with workforce shifts isn’t easy, particularly for big, traditional companies. How is Amgen keeping up?
A: To be frank I don't think of Amgen as a big or traditional company! Although globally we have 40 years of history, but in Asia we have had a presence for only about six years. But in the past six years, we have quickly expanded ourselves. And in terms of how we keep up with workforce shifts – it is by empowering our employees. That is a key pillar in managing such a diverse workforce and navigating major workforce changes.
Q: How do you think the pandemic affected the work culture, specifically in the South East Asia region?
The pandemic brought a lot of uncertainty. During the coronavirus pandemic, there were disruptions to the business, and to the connection with our patients. I believe a key factor in building a strong corporate culture is the importance of the relationship between manager and employee, especially in a fast-changing working environment like we experienced during the pandemic. I think it's become very critical to keep a relatively steady stream of communication with our employees, just to strengthen the transparency and proceed in a trust with our people.
Q: Organisations have really had to leverage technology as they dealt with lockdowns, shift to working from home, and now we have this move to a more hybrid work culture. What is the one tech product that Amgen really relied on during the pandemic?
A: Even before the pandemic at Amgen, we have been introducing a wide range of tech products to support our employees at work. I think the key change Covid brought to us is that we just rapidly increased adoption of these new technologies and products. And made people more open to try different and new things.
If you would like me to mention one specific one, I think it will be Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams probably has the highest adoption across our region at this moment. It is because it's more like a platform, a hub, and helps consolidate much of our day-to-day work. So, it is not only about chatting with each other. We also can use a lot of functions or apps, we can create a task, assign a task, and keep a close track of the task progression in collaborative ways with the team. So it makes our work more productive and efficient.
Q: What have been the biggest learnings from the last two years for Amgen as an organisation, and also specifically for your HR department?
The pandemic, I think, acted like a catalyst and accelerated all of us towards thinking about what the future of work would look like and how we can adapt ourselves to the different ways of work, which we can now call the new normal. The challenges we are facing, or the key learnings we have experienced, in the past year are regarding how we can make people feel fully engaged, even as they work from different locations and different time zones. We believe an environment of inclusion can actually foster innovation which drives our ability to serve our patients. Our impact is maximised with a workforce that reflects the diversity of the patients that need our life saving therapy.
One of my favourite definitions that I’ve heard of Diversity and Inclusion is the quote below from Verna Myers: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. – Verna Myers”
In addition to that, as my colleague, who is a DI&B advocate shared with me, “Belonging” can be viewed as people feeling free to dance however they want.
Q: What according to you are the biggest trends that you think will be shaping the workforce of the future?
I think we have to accept the fact that in the future people will probably work in different locations. And they can decide the perfect balance for themselves – where to work and how to work. As an organisation, you have to create strong values that can really pull your people together, regardless of where and how they work. One way we are doing this is through ESG. The aim behind ESG is to serve our mission, that is to serve the patients. I think we not only create a culture of value for our employees, but also for the community we are living in.
Q: What do you think is the importance of upskilling and re-skilling in today’s world of work? What steps has Amgen recently taken in this area?
At Amgen, we are fully invested in providing our people with the support, training and opportunities required for them to reach their full potential. The Future Leaders Program is one of our key thrusts in the South East Asia India and Hong Kong region (SEAIHK). The nine-month intensive leadership training course aims to empower future leaders with the ability to adopt a holistic approach to leadership, using their ‘head, heart and gut’, so that they can effectively set strategy, empathise with others, and take risks.