Alvin Aloysius Goh is presently the Executive Director at Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI).
He has an illustrious career with over twenty years of experience, having worked with some of the most prestigious brands in the likes of Maybank, Temasek Holdings, INSEAD, and HayGroup, among others. His areas of expertise include transformation, human capital, risk & compliance.
In this exclusive interaction with People Matters and ServiceNow, Alvin talks about Singapore playing a bigger role in the gig economy, employers avoiding the subject of mental health, willingness to become employee-centric organizations and SHRI seeking greater diversity at the workplace.
Here are excerpts from the interaction.
In your opinion, what are the top three trends that will shape Singapore's work, workforce and workplace in 2021?
As we start the new decade, we will see more and more “digital nomads” entering the workforce. At the same time, the older generations will begin to retire. The entire profile of the workforce will start to change through this decade.
One trend we will see in the next couple of years is that consumers will be demanding more real time, faster and more effective ways of getting things done. Organizations will respond by making a huge exodus from the traditional ways of doing things and will have to go digital.
A second trend is that Singapore will begin to play a greater role in the gig economy.
We are the business hub for Southeast Asia, and we have the talent here. And people, especially the young graduates, are becoming increasingly open to gig assignments. Hopefully, this will mean that companies keep jobs here rather than offshoring the work to the rest of the region.
The third trend is of course digital transformation, including in HR tech. The government is already encouraging more digital transformation to take place, not only among the MNCs, but especially amongst the SMEs as well, so as to be able to continuously attract talent into the workforce. And organizations are looking not just into predictive analytics, but also into preventive analytics. The combination of the two coupled with business intelligence will help organizations make better and more informed decisions people decisions over the next few years.
Despite the perceived accelerated digital adoption, a recent ServiceNow survey found that a startling 91 percent of executives say certain routine business workflows are done completely or partially offline at their companies. What is your take on this?
To me, anything that is routine becomes very predictable and can be easily replaced. Automation should come into play and organisations should look into outsourcing some of these routine work so that they can concentrate on creating greater value for their customers.
Quite simply, organizations do not want to incur higher costs or impose the costs on their customers. It is efficient.
As organizations move toward returning to the workplace, what do you think are some non-negotiables that employers must account for?
The number one non-negotiable is, of course, that as an employer, we need to be able to provide a safe environment for our employees. That is our duty. Right now, Singapore is in Phase 3, and while the default is for all employees to work from home, we are easing the controls a little to allow up to 50 percent of the workforce to return. At some point in time, some form of normalization will take place. Offices will return to almost full capacity—meaning 60, 70, or even 80 percent of capacity eventually. But the working environment must be safe.
Another non-negotiable is to do with digitalization.
It's important for companies to have a telecommuting policy—if they don't have one, they must develop one. They must identify those that are able to perform away from the office: the types of roles, the types of work that require interaction, and how it can be done.
And we must have an understanding of the environment where they are working from. Some will not be able to work away from the office, and there must be flexibility to bring them back to the office while ensuring that the office environment is safe.
The other aspect is that I hope to see employers to lead with compassion. Employers should seek to understand first, rather than to be understood. As we saw over the last year, mental health issues were a major concern around the world, and that is a subject that a lot of employers here in Singapore and maybe also around the region tend to avoid. To me, it is a non-negotiable that employers must create a safe space for their employees to talk about how they are doing, what challenges and issues they are facing, whether in their work performance. If we want to be an employee-centric organization, that is the area that we really need to look into.
With hybrid work setups becoming more widespread, what can be done to maintain a good employee experience for both those working at home and those working from office?
The use of HR tech, from digital onboarding platforms to the use of real time instruments, is just one set of tools that employers can use to enhance the overall employee experience. If you look at 2020, hiring didn't come to a complete standstill. It was still happening and onboarding was still being done. In fact, many HR tech specialists came forward to help organizations with their hiring and onboarding, or their performance management, to enable them to still have some level of normalcy in HR operations. And organizations also took the opportunity to explore new ways of reaching out to employees.
More broadly speaking, employee experience boils down to the leaders of the organization. It must start from their willingness to really want to become an employee-centric organization. If you do not have this desire, and you do not make your employees count, and you do not engage your workforce closely—I think you are bound to fail to at least some extent, even if you have a good business value proposition.
In HR's war for talent, we have moved from personnel management to human capital. Because a resource is something that you utilize and exhaust, but capital is something you enhance.
The MNCs in Singapore have been doing very well on this front for the last 10 years. But the SMEs still have some way to go.
What key goals do you have in mind for SHRI to work towards this year?
We hope to see more diversity in the workplace. 2020 was a difficult year for many, but even before the pandemic, there has always been a group of people who find it hard to gain employment—those who are physically and mentally challenged, single mothers, ex-offenders, who face more barriers. We want to advocate the need for organizations, through the HR profession, to look at new ways of bringing this particular group of people into employment and create new, better ways for them to be able to be economically gainful.
I like to put it this way: traditionally, there are only two types of people, those who think in the box and those who think out of the box. But if you really want to bring this group of disadvantaged people into the workforce or for that matter, improve upon your organisation’s overall offerings through creation of more value, you have to throw away the box and think on how to improve. Don’t be bogged down by traditional and legacy workflows, processes and procedures. Look at how to bring more value to your customer.
It's about challenging oneself on mindset, throwing away the whole box and reframing workflows.
In the process not only are you improving on the quality of your workflows, you are also bringing social good, and gaining a lot of goodwill. Lastly to summarise, SHRI hopes to see the HR Community move towards the following area:
- Competency base assessment of talent in TA strategies
- Leveraging on Technology – redesigning jobs to suit the demographics and change in business strategy
- Be open to gig, part time, agile and flexible workforce
- Catering people policies and benefits to diverse demographics
- Tapping on the institution knowledge and wisdom or older generations
And that's what SHRI is moving towards and will continue to provide support/resources (via training, webinars, thought-leadership articles, consultancy and etc) and advocating for other organizations to do the same.