Instead of being restricted to office sites and normal working hours, the workplace of the future will be much more digital, much more flexible, and less hierarchical, and the gig workforce will become more prevalent. HR needs to embrace disruption and reimagine the workplace where people are enabled to focus and work safely, leading to an overall improvement in workforce productivity, according to Lay Keng.
Tan Lay Keng is currently EY Asean People Advisory Services Leader; Partner at Ernst & Young Tax Consultants Sdn Bhd. Lay Keng has over 30 years of professional services experience, with 10 years in corporate taxation. Her experience covers a wide range of industries including oil and gas, telecommunications, technology, professional services, financial services, manufacturing, trading, and real estate.
Lay Keng has held a number of EY leadership roles in Malaysia and notably led the EY Mobility business within People Advisory Services for more than 20 years. She is also the EY China Overseas Investment Network (COIN) Leader in Malaysia.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
Between April-June 2020, the world lost almost 400 million full-time jobs due to the pandemic, according to ILO. Some of these jobs may get lost forever. At the same time, a new category of jobs is emerging. What's your advice to the millions of workers who are now jobless? What can employers now do to create jobs, and what jobs should they be focusing on?
The unemployed need to keep themselves constantly updated about the latest sectoral trends and employment opportunities. As employment opportunities shift across sectors, they will also need to identify transferable skills that would enable them to move from sectors with lower employment to those with higher employment opportunities.
Employers can work together with the government to roll out initiatives to enable reskilling and upskilling for individuals to bounce back stronger, equipped with data and digital skills required of the workforce of the future. Such initiatives will not only help to safeguard the employability and future-relevance of the individuals but will also facilitate the individuals’ move towards high value-adding job roles with higher earning potential. The spectrum of relevant data and technology skillsets include data interpretation, data strategy management, data mining and modeling, software development, and technology risk management.
In addressing unemployment issues, employers can simplify the organizational structure by de-layering and creating micro roles. In addition, organizations can create more demand-based work targeting the gig workforce.
Beyond creating jobs for the present, employers should also start looking at planning for jobs of the future by identifying future skills required, critically evaluating each job role, and developing learning roadmaps in line with identified future skills. Employers should design customized training programs tailored to the desired skills and redefine recruitment, selection, and job placement strategies. In short, HR needs to embrace disruption and reimagine the workplace where people are enabled to focus and work safely, leading to an overall improvement in workforce productivity.
The job landscape five years from now would be one that is increasingly agile, with people at the center and with an emphasis on employee experiences. Employers who take the time to understand their employees’ experiences and needs, and help their employees manage challenges will win their trust and build resilience through an engaged, productive, and successful workforce.
Employers are encouraged to reinvent work, synchronizing technology, and the shape of work to current and future needs. Instead of being restricted to office sites and normal working hours, the workplace of the future will be much more digital, much more flexible, and less hierarchical, and the gig workforce will become more prevalent. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a great testament to remote working, which was not conventional to many industries before. The extent to which an organization can offer flexible experiences will determine its ability to attract the best talents in the market.
How do you see the overall impact of the new work from home phenomenon? What do organizations need to do to become more resilient under remote working conditions? What do employees need to do to become more productive as they work remotely?
Organizations need to carry out workforce planning to identify roles that are suitable for WFH, the number of employees impacted, and assess possible realignment of roles. Further, employers should establish business cases on costs, benefits and workforce productivity as well as assess the impact on KPIs, salaries, allowances, and incentives. Importantly, organizations may wish to also consider learning and development needs (e.g., reskilling, upskilling) and evaluate the necessary changes to business processes and approvals and establish clear SOPs.
Organizations should also focus on their people. A recent EY survey, Work-From-Home Pulse Survey, that examined the sentiments of people WFH shows that as much as remote working saves time and daily expenses, employees reported a poorer work-life balance. Employees may feel isolated, emotionally stressed, and lack a sense of belonging. Therefore, organizations need to engage their employees who are working remotely more frequently and differently.
It is essential for employers to develop strong connections and regular communications with employees that focus on relating, empathy, and belonging. Workers would want to feel that they matter, particularly in these testing times. Employers need to implement active listening and continuous feedback infrastructure such as quick pulse surveys to monitor sentiment and spot emerging issues; while virtual suggestion boxes can be set up for people to submit feedback and ideas. In addition, right expectations and behaviors need to be put in place, where priorities and productivity should be redefined. Employees seek to successfully integrate and manage their personal responsibilities with the new virtual demands of work.
Last, but not least, leaders should be role models to employees, by focusing on building the human connection through technology and encouraging authentic sharing and conversations. Leaders should work towards building and nurturing a sense of trust and belonging.
Employees, on the other hand, should also stay connected with their team leaders and team members by being participative or supportive of integration of life while working remotely, for instance, with video switched on when meeting virtually or having virtual moments to introduce kids, partners and pets. The individuals should know who to reach out to for support and who their allies are.
Similarly, individuals should identify ways to help strengthen and support their own team members. Remote team leads may want to reserve time for office hours and “open door” sessions to enable team members to simply call to discuss any topics.
Well-being and care for themselves and others are critical when working remotely. Employees should develop a daily routine, such as fixed regular breaks, a fixed start and end time for work according to their most productive hours in line with their personal commitments, and meeting cadence with key project team members. Leaders should also identify and allocate roles within teams to check that the way work is being produced is meeting expectations.
To equip themselves with skills required in these unprecedented times, employees should leverage the freed-up time e.g., from commuting, for self-development. Team leads should demonstrate leadership and role modeling e.g., complete certified online learning themselves, as this positively impacts teams during this time in terms of productivity, care, and motivation.
How do you see the overall role of HR and people managers evolving amid this pandemic and whatÕs the way forward for people and talent managers to make the most of this situation?
HR or people functions are the first line of resilience for the workforce during a crisis. CHROs and their leadership teams need to work in an integrated fashion with operations, finance, IT, legal, and investor relations.
As this pandemic evolved, the overall roles of HR and people managers has also transitioned from enabling business continuity and leading crisis management, to managing ongoing business disruption and transforming the overall talent or workforce landscape to succeed. Even as they drive the transformation agenda, CHROs too will need to take on new roles as the “Chief Experience Officer”, with an emphasis on delivering employee experiences in the new ways of working. Specifically, people and talent managers should implement new people function(s), upgrade the capabilities of their teams, and move people and work as needed to enhance service experiences and value.
The people function should seize the opportunity to stand out as an agile function that is exceptional at listening, anticipating, improving, and deploying service enhancements at speed. HR should also drive innovation to underscore HR as a critical enabler of the value of people and business outcomes. For example, people managers should find ways to enhance team performance.
In today’s new normal, HR and people managers will need to take on the roles of strategic advisors to the C-suite to deliver workforce impact; stewards and keepers of employee culture, safety, wellness and engagement; and drivers of people actions required to maintain overall organizational and financial health.
How do you see the gender diversity landscape amid this crisis? There are growing concerns that progress on D&I could slow down during and after the crisis unless companies consciously focus on advancing diversity and fostering inclusion.
Gender diversity and inclusion should always be a priority whether in times of pandemic or not. A study by Randstad, Prioritizing gender diversity in the era of COVID-19, shows that a diverse workplace drives greater customer and employee loyalty, increases worker engagement, and has a higher capacity for innovation. In addition, women are known to be equipped with traits and skills such as creativity, sensitivity, people-focused, and adaptive to change, that are critical in challenging times. Thus, having women with these skill sets, in both senior leadership, and across the talent pipeline, are critical to an organization’s well-being and survival.
However, COVID-19 has impacted women in various spheres of their lives, whether at work or home. Women, especially those who undertake part-time work, may not have a safety net in case of reduced hours or job loss. Consequently, women may be more economically affected by the pandemic than men. Women generally also experience more challenges at home as they play the role of primary caregivers to children and elderly relatives. With the closure of daycare centers and schools, women need to take on additional duties to their children such as homeschooling. An EY study, Work redefined – Navigating COVID-19 survey insights, reported that 56 percent of women are either working more hours or on the weekends while working from home compared to 35 percent of the male respondents. This challenge will only continue (if not exacerbate) as women plan to return to the workplace while continuing to maintain family commitments during this time of the pandemic.
To build a gender-inclusive workplace, leaders at all levels of organizations and society must hold themselves accountable for achieving gender equality. It is not enough to proclaim support or make a pledge or a promise. It is time to act.
Read more such stories from the September issue of our e-magazine on 'Jobs: Now & Beyond’