Article: JP Orbeta on why office return mandates misfire


JP Orbeta on why office return mandates misfire

JP Orbeta on how to make flexible models work – even if you're a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate.
JP Orbeta on why office return mandates misfire

Employers should NOT mandate a return-to-office just for the sake of having people in the office. Companies need a much stronger reason to get staff back.

Otherwise, employers will “never win the argument”.

The word of advice came from one of the most widely respected CHROs in Southeast Asia, JP Orbeta, during a panel discussion at the World Human Resource Congress in Singapore.

“There has to be a higher purpose as to why we need them back in the office,” Orbeta said, going against the grain of poorly planned RTO mandates not just in Asia but worldwide.

Employers already know that most tasks can be done remotely, as was the case during the pandemic.

“The question is,” Orbeta said, “is remote work as effective as we would want it to be or not? That’s the question that needs to come up.”

Based on his experience at Ayala Corporation – a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate spanning industries such as banking, telecommunications, real estate, energy and manufacturing in the Philippines – Orbeta knows that adopting a one-size-fits-all approach across the group would fail to consider the diversity of the companies.

However, each business still needs to retain those touchpoints.

“In the case of Ayala Corp, Wednesday is a must. Everybody must be in the office on Wednesdays,” the HR leader said.

Wednesdays are a time for leaders across the Ayala group to hold townhall meetings, small group meetings, team lunches and the like.

“You need to define the moments that matter; for everybody to be together and build espirit de corps,” he said.

“But, if somebody says, I need to work from home today, or I need to pick up my kids, we’re very relaxed about it. People know that there is built-in flexibility, rather than a strict line.”

A ‘higher purpose’ behind RTO policies

Creating a higher purpose behind an office return policy requires holistic and strategic thinking. Those implementing RTO mandates must know exactly what their talent needs.

Why return to a shared location? Orbeta recommends HR leaders must be ready to answer this question, communicating the message clearly across all lines.

“Part of it is career development. Part of it is imbibing the culture. Part of it is onboarding the new hire so that they take on the culture,” Orbeta said.

“Part of it is mentoring and coaching and problem solving immediately. All of those need to be taken into account. It’s not just for the sake of returning to the office.”

All of these can be correlated to performance, Orbeta said. This is where HR leaders must tread carefully.

The paradox of performance and work location preferences

Orbeta cited a study in which employees, who tended to receive poor performance ratings, were likely to be most insistent about working from home. Conversely, employees who felt most engaged and tended to perform better at work also often suffered from the fear of missing out whenever there was an activity in the office.

When they’re in the office, people are sharing and Instagramming. [There would be] spontaneous lunches. They’re doing karaoke nights in the middle of the week. They’re doing all sorts of activities,” he said.

“Because their philosophy is to work hard and play hard. And so, you create this culture of high performers.”

How Ayala Corp is winning with new work models

How does Ayala as a conglomerate succeed at implementing different work models? For Orbeta, it comes down to understanding what the companies and their workforce need.

“Given that we have different businesses and different requirements, each of the different businesses has a different model. For the bank, they are on a five-day work week. We, in AC Energy or ACEN, are on a four- to five-day work week as well. But the majority of our companies are on a three-day work week. And then, we have one company that is fully remote,” he said.

“In all cases, I think the first question is, how do we make sure [our choice of a work model] is well communicated? The reason we are in this work arrangement, that’s number one. Number two, how do you create opportunities for people to get together?”

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Topics: Leadership, #Flexibility

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