With the surge in workplace automation showing no signs of abating, relatively few Asia Pacific employers, including Singapore, have developed an integrated digital transformation strategy, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson. Additionally, a majority of employers say they need breakthrough approaches in organisational design, leadership development and performance management to address the challenges arising from workplace automation; and the increased use of non-employee talent has accelerated in its wake.
The Pathways to Digital Enablement Study found the proportion of work delivered through automation among companies has more than doubled over the last three years, from 8% to 20%, and is expected to grow to 34% in Asia Pacific in the next three years. Additionally, nearly all respondents (92%) expect to be using workplace automation, including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, within three years.
“Workplace automation has been growing in leaps and bounds, and all signs point towards continued expansion,” said Vidisha Mehta, Managing Director, Talent & Rewards, Singapore, Willis Towers Watson. “With such widespread change, employers must address how they’ll get work done. Companies that understand the impact of automation and digitalization on their workforces, and are able to develop an integrated digital and business strategy will be best positioned to gain competitive advantage.”
Despite the surge in workplace automation, only 9% of organizations in Singapore have developed an integrated digital business strategy and road map. In fact, just over half of all organizations are either reacting to changes in the business environment with very rudimentary digital capabilities, or have a digital strategy that is not aligned with their business strategy.
The survey also reported that almost three-quarters of respondents in Singapore (74%) cited leadership being a key driver to successfully address the challenges of automation and digitalisation. “Effective leaders develop strategies that integrate talent and automation to change the way work is done. This not only creates new sources of value but also shapes a culture of innovation that will attract and retain talent, and deliver growth,” commented Vidisha.
To stay ahead of the competition and meet their digital ambitions, organizations can use different methods to develop digital capabilities. These include building talent internally, hiring new employees, forming partnerships with established organizations, contracting with third parties, partnering with start-ups, or setting up corporate venture capital arms or incubators. Those that progress to the level where they effectively partner with start-ups, invest in corporate venture arms or incubators reap many benefits, including leveraging technology that cannot be built quickly internally, increasing agility on new initiatives, bringing innovative ideas and perspectives in-house, and working with top talent.
As workplace automation expands, employers expect to add more non-employee talent to their workforces, reducing their reliance on full-time employees. These include contract employees, freelancers and temporary workers. The survey also shows that the percentage of organizations utilising automation and digitalization to enable them to use more non-employee talent is expected to grow from 25% today to 57% over the next three years across Asia Pacific. The increased reliance on non-employee talent will lead to job redesign and a more strategic focus on workforce planning. Companies will need to ensure the optimal combinations of humans and automation as they reinvent their jobs.
Nevertheless, the changes occurring in the organizations and labor markets, and within societies generally heighten employees’ perception of job risk. Two out of five employees across the world think their jobs are likely to be taken over by automation or offshoring over the next decade. The perception of job risk is highest among non-employee talent, followed by managers. The positive aspect is that employees who perceive their job to be at risk are more likely to take actions such as in investing in their own learning and seeking reskilling opportunities.
The survey also revealed that almost half of the non-managerial respondents have a low perception of job risk. “The awareness among these employees is still low. These are usually employees in transactional roles or routine jobs, and organisations are likely to use technology to automate some of this work. It is therefore important for leaders to educate employees on how automation and digitalisation will change their jobs so that they are more aware of the need to adopt an agile approach and growth mindset to reskill and upskill. Skills are the currency of the new world of work,” said Vidisha.
“It is critical that leaders possess the capabilities and skills to orchestrate a diverse ecosystem of work options. They also need to curate and execute on the optimal talent experience and ensure it aligns with the mission and purpose of each individual with that of the enterprise. We know from our research that organisations that successfully integrate different types of talent with automation are reaping benefits in the form of cost savings and less disruption in the short term. They will in fact, also gain a competitive advantage as they transform and grow their businesses.”