Article: ‘We need to approach digital workflows very responsibly’

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‘We need to approach digital workflows very responsibly’

In this conversation with People Matters and ServiceNow, Norlida Azmi, Group Chief People Officer, Axiata talks about the evolving equilibrium between well-being and the emerging workplace construct, and preparing for a hybrid working model beyond policies, in line with Axiata’s vision of becoming the next generation digital champion.
‘We need to approach digital workflows very responsibly’

Norlida Azmi is Axiata’s Group Chief People Officer.

Norlida comes with an illustrious industry experience of over three decades across some of the largest names in the financial services sector including HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Citi Group, Commercial Bank, among others. 

Her areas of expertise and interest include shaping culture, driving transformation, agility and digital, and enhancing organizational diversity and well-being.

In this exclusive conversation with People Matters and ServiceNow, Norlida talks about the evolving equilibrium between well-being and the emerging workplace construct, and preparing for a hybrid working model beyond policies, in line with Axiata’s vision of becoming the next generation digital champion.

Here are excerpts from the interaction.

What key differences do you observe in how workplaces and the workforce coped with the sudden shift to remote work in 2020 and how they are coping today? Do you anticipate any significant shifts in 2021, in comparison to the previous year?

A lot of adjustments had to be made last year, as we shifted rapidly from the onset of COVID-19 where employees' health and safety were paramount, to the present where workplaces and practices have moved to establishing new ways of working. Some organizations were visibly more prepared in terms of the digital connectivity that was required to sustain operations. And so, what happened towards the end of last year, we reached a little bit of equilibrium - while well-being of the employees remains an aspect where employers now know what to do, there is a parallel focus on how do we resuscitate the ability of driving and maintaining business, born out of the question of life versus livelihood. 

These transitions continue to happen in 2021 as well. We see a little more optimism, with respect to a much more acknowledged shift to hybrid. It is no longer about reacting to the pandemic, the management and workstyle may still be impacted beyond this year.

The visualization of how work and workplace will change has extended to the next 24 months, and clearly one of the parameters is really going into a hybrid working situation, along with a focus on balancing the well-being of our people.

The advantage today is we can build on last year’s experiences and learnings.

As employers contemplate remote work vs return to the workplace, what essentials must they account for in order to enable a seamless and productive working experience? How is Axiata approaching work in 2021 - remote work, return to work or a hybrid working model?

We've been operating on Flex@Axiata - of flexible locations and timings - and that's really going on the principle of trust, and shifting to a mindset of outcomes and deliverables. What we're doing is quickly ascertaining the roles that can be delivered remotely. Some roles perhaps still have to be physical, but it is the art of balancing that has become critical. We must ensure we have the right tools, so work goes on, remote or on site is going to be almost immaterial. Our knowledge workers will be able to determine the scope of flexibility to enable employees to do their work regardless of where they are. 

And how are we preparing for hybrid apart from making it a policy? We are looking at ways we can help our people managers effectively manage the hybrid ways of working. Engagement and productivity being reciprocal, how do we keep up the level of engagement to ensure productivity?

Work engagement is what builds bonds in an organization. So we're working on helping the people managers do that. 

We're also working on ensuring that our performance and management rewards move in tandem. And how does it become embedded as part of our employee value proposition? That is the underlying drive of equipping our employees with digital capabilities. 

The other big angle we're looking at is how this inter-relates to the well-being of the staff, because increasingly, we’ve been hearing about the rise in stressors. An important question here is when we talk about mental stressors - Have we really handled it enough? Have we set protocols and work timings that enable employees to really tools down? So, while helping people manage hybrid work areas with deliverables and ensuring digital connectivity is one aspect, the other aspect is the well-being program. We've also launched the ‘AxiataCares’ initiative, which brings this all together in a cohesive and comprehensive way.

In shaping meaningful employee experience in the present context, what are organizations not doing right? What are some essentials of employee experience in the evolving workplace construct?

I'm not sure if it's ‘not doing right’. The way I see it, it's about not doing fast enough. You want to build programs and build them into work practices, you don't have an option but to do it faster, because your staff are already burnt out and fatigued. Have we really implemented work ethics on the hybrid front fast enough? Or do we say why are you not in the office when there are no longer movement restrictions? Therefore, I think it's the mindset that needs to move faster.

Additionally, when it comes to well-being and mental stressors, you can't just say, ‘I'm going to have you talk to a counselor about your condition’. Instead, your concern and responsibility as an employer is to have it embedded in the work practices. And I think that is among the biggest things that we must do this year. While we talk about building hybrid workplaces, how is it in the real workplace practice? 

How organizations tackle the aspect of well-being, especially when they say that they care about the well-being of employees, will define them moving forward. This year presents an opportunity to shift from running initiatives versus embedding them into workplace practices.

The newer landscape of work actually demands employers to really care about well-being and sustainability.

As per a recent ServiceNow survey, 91% of Singapore employees and 89% executives say COVID-19 has made their company rethink how they work and create new and better ways of working. With a slow and steady return to office, what new ways of working do you foresee?

I think what has happened is that this disruption has really put a spotlight on skills. The new ways of working have really enabled the future of work template to come to life today, focusing on skills as key to delivering outcomes, especially as we see rapid digitalization and digitization across functions. And this is going to have, rippling effects into the entire HR scope of how we hire, who we hire, and the modes of engagement used to hire them - Are they full time? Are they gig workers? Are they outsourced? Work mode arrangements will absolutely become a key discussion. 

Additionally, when you go into a digital world, there is an element of risk and governance, accompanied by the need for security, especially following the digital world becoming prey to increased phishing, cyber security threats, and concerns around data privacy. We need to approach hybrid working and digital workflows very responsibly. 

What key goals - business and people - is Axiata working towards this year?

We continue with our business aspiration and vision to become the next generation digital champion.

For a long time now we have really been upskilling our people in building digital capabilities and abilities. And that's not just limited to analytics but goes further into all disciplines including HR such as in  talent management and well-being. 

There are some aspirations on where we're going to go from here. We don't just call it telco, we talk about digital telco, we also talk about digital businesses and services, because that's where we have invested our analytics capability, digital marketing, that reach out directly to consumers. But underlying it, you still need the infrastructure to enable these digital connections. 

So for us, it is really about ensuring that our people continue to build on increasing our  agility and  enhancing key skills of digital and analytics. And that we amplify our focus on our people's well-being. So those are our focus areas under our People First, Always in Axiata.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #ReinventHR

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