DN Prasad, or DNP as he is fondly known as in the professional circles, is presently the Senior Director - Strategy, People & Organization, GovTech Singapore. In this role he is responsible for Corporate Strategy, Human Resources, Organization Development, Workplace and Culture for the organization.
An industry stalwart with over 20 years of experience, DNP is globally recognized as an Executive Coach (PCC, International Coach Federation), transformational HR Leader, Culture Builder and Mentor/Advisor.
In conversation with People Matters, DNP discusses the three non-negotiables, challenges and benefits of returning to the workplace, the threat of resisting necessary changes, leveraging tech to build a hybrid workplace culture, and advises leaders on prioritizing right as transition to a hybrid working model kicks in.
Here are excerpts from the interaction.
In your opinion, what are the top three trends that will shape work, workforce and workplace in 2021?
Increased flexibility across multiple dimensions - location, physical space (home or office) and time. Any progressive and employee-centric organization should adopt these flexibilities together with performance measured by output or impact, rather than focus on the efforts measured by ‘face time’ or number of working hours. We also need to be agile and flexible with our business planning and associated OKRs/KPIs. It won’t be “cast in stone” anymore.
Creation of the hybrid workplace that offers the workforce with a seamless experience between working in a physical office and through virtual means, and continues to foster a sense of belonging, identity and pride. The “physical space” is no longer just meant for work, but more for collaboration and social interactions.
As much as we should ‘lock in the gains’ from an extended work-from-home arrangement in 2020, we need to pay more attention to the social and serendipitous interactions that have been called out as a challenge in maintaining a healthy boundary between work and personal life.
Greater priority and focus on mental health as we continue to deal with the pandemic that has affected the mental and emotional well-being of most people in one way or another.
Despite the perceived accelerated digital adoption, a recent ServiceNow survey found that a startling 91% of executives say certain routine business workflows are done completely or partially offline at their companies. What is your take on this?
Our experiences in 2020 have fueled the impetus to accelerate digital transformation. As the lead public agency driving Singapore's Smart Nation initiative and public sector digital transformation, GovTech too stepped up efforts by leveraging our technological capabilities in combating COVID-19 and played our part in supporting the rest of the public sector, our businesses and people in adopting new technology or digital processes.
Beyond technology itself, digital transformation in organizations involves their culture, people, data and processes. It doesn’t happen overnight as a result of a dire situation like a pandemic, but if organizations continue to resist the necessary changes or take too long to respond adequately, there is already evidence of how they could quickly become history. That said, such transformation demands thoughtful planning and implementation, where the leaders have to bring everyone along and not inject technology for the sake of it.
Are you planning any significant changes in the working model for your organization? Which direction are you headed towards - remote work, return to work or a hybrid working model?
At GovTech, we are guided by our values of being Agile, Bold and Collaborative, on top of being an impact-driven organization. We have also been offering need-based flexibility to our employees. This helped us transition smoothly into remote work arrangements last year and enabled us to be in ‘business-as-usual’ mode.
Moving forward, we reckon a hybrid working model serves us best.
For the foreseeable future, employees are advised to telecommute unless they are required to return to the workplace to facilitate important meetings or cross-team partnerships, or to achieve greater effectiveness or quicker outcomes by coming together; while following government regulations such as group size and social distancing.
Another consideration is ensuring that our new hires have a positive onboarding experience and are well-integrated into their teams and our agency, for which a hybrid working model would offer some in-person interactions that help build relationships and a sense of belonging in those early days.
What benefits and challenges do you foresee in implementing a ‘return to work’ strategy?
When employers needed to pivot their workforce as much as possible to work from home, many faced struggles – real and perceived – initially but were able to adapt by making adjustments or changing our routines, reconfiguring work-life arrangements etc.
After months of adapting to – or even thriving in – the ‘new normal’, one part of the workforce may be overjoyed to ‘return to work’; some of the benefits are being able to see and engage with their friends at work in person, to serendipitously bump into coworkers at the pantry or along the corridor and strike a conversation that may lead to a brilliant idea or resolution to an ongoing issue. Another part of the workforce could be dreading the reduced flexibility, realities of the commute, the arrangements to make for childcare etc., which could compromise on productivity.
One size does not fit all and we can’t please everyone.
Organizations need to be thoughtful in designing a strategy that addresses organizational-critical needs while keeping their workforce’s well-being and the employee experience in check and ensure clear and timely communication of the thought process behind the chosen strategy.
In a hybrid work setup, how can employee experience be standardized for those working at home and those working from office?
The seamless transition between the physical & virtual work environment, and within the physical and virtual environments themselves are key to providing a great and consistent employee experience. While technology is an enabler, it still requires organizations to intentionally foster an inclusive culture (such as encouraging the use of video during virtual meetings), have strong leadership for regular engagement and communication, establish people touch-points that can be well-managed in both environments, and put in place adequate practices and tools to enable delivery of a seamless experience.
What is your advice for organizations prepping for a return to work? What non-negotiables should they account for?
My advice is for organizations and their leaders to focus on three non-negotiables, which are similar to ours at GovTech:
- Prioritizing health and safety of our employees,
- Offering a truly integrated bi-modal (physical and virtual) working experience
- Delivering transparent and real-time communication to the workforce (on decisions, processes, changes, situations, etc.)
It is table stakes to bear in mind that ‘it is always about the people’.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
As a glass-half-full kind of person, I am grateful for the curveball 2020 threw at us; for all the learning and how we managed ourselves, how we showed up for one another at GovTech and our ability to play a part in keeping Singapore and our people safe.
As we have been reminding ourselves at GovTech, 2021 will be a year to:
- Lock in the gains,
- Lead from the future, and
- Leap into organizational agility
I definitely look forward to continuing the transformative journey we are on and playing our part to serve the public sector, businesses and people in our country.