How Asia’s businesses can make work more profitable and rewarding through “productive, anywhere” employees.
Over the past few weeks and months, the conversations I have with business leaders in Asia Pacific have increasingly focused on one thing: the transformation of the workplace. It’s a subject that fascinates me, and I’m truly excited to see what the future of work will look like once the dust has settled on the disruption of pandemic.
Accenture’s new research report, The Future of Work: Productive Anywhere, makes for interesting reading in this regard, shining a spotlight on how the workplace is changing in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. The most significant finding: 83% of workers globally say a hybrid model of work would be optimal, one where individuals can work remotely between 25% and 75% of the time.
Workers in Asia Pacific are readier than most to adopt this new way of work.
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Ninety-four percent of Chinese, 89% of Singaporean and 87% of Japanese respondents cited a preference for a hybrid model for the future of work as opposed to a fully on-site or fully remote alternatives.
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However, the level to which workers feel they are able to be productive anywhere varies across the region. In China, respondents report having greater autonomy in their jobs and higher levels of digital skills which translates into 54% feeling they can be productive anywhere in the future of work.
Similarly, in Singapore the proportion of workers who feel they can be productive everywhere in the future of work is higher than the global average. It’s also worth noting that a much higher proportion of workers in Singapore had the opportunity to work in a hybrid model during the pandemic (vs. fully on-site or fully remote).
The picture is not uniformly positive, however. In Japan, people report fewer strong social bonds at work, lower organizational digital maturity, and lower organizational agility. This has led to a higher proportion of workers who feel they can’t be productive anywhere (15%) and have predominantly negative mindsets about the future of work. Just 25% feel they can be productive regardless of location.
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If businesses in Asia Pacific are to attract the best talent, and to empower workers to unlock their full potential, then supporting hybrid working is imperative. In my work with businesses in the region, three key topics of discussion keep coming up time and again.
- How can hybrid models can be tailored to the needs of different industries? While the hybrid model lends itself most easily to office-based roles, businesses in sectors where an on-site presence is mandatory will also need to redefine how they work. This includes industries such as retail, hospitality, mining and energy. Businesses in these and similar industries need to think about how best to redesign work and workplace experiences to enable an element of hybrid working. This will require virtualizing wherever possible, and allowing workers to complete administrative and other tasks on regular home working days. Leading businesses are already attempting to do just that. For instance, one large mining company has opened a remote operations center that allows managers to oversee on-site operations without the need to be physically present. Similarly, a growing number of retailers in the region have virtualized inventory management, enabling workers to keep an eye on stock levels without having to be on-site. Digital Twins and AR/VR is also another example of technologies enabling hybrid models in a broad range of environment.
- How can enterprises leverage extra-national talent pools? The pandemic proved that a great deal of work can be conducted remotely. When assessing how to structure tomorrow’s hybrid model, businesses in the region are therefore free to look outside their own national borders to meet their skills requirements. Location is no longer a limiting factor for a wide range of roles and that will help companies that are currently struggling to fill crucial roles. For instance, companies in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan have previously looked to hire specialist workers from Europe and the US to work in-country to fill skills gaps in areas such as AI and data science. The pandemic cut off this source of labor, and while many companies are launching reskilling programmes to meet demand, there is also a marked increase in companies bringing on remote workers to meet their immediate needs.
- What does hybrid work mean for diversity and inclusion? A future of work based on hybrid working will open new entry points into the workforce for people of all backgrounds. When work can be done anywhere, things that were previously a barrier to entering the workforce for various groups are removed. A great example is the consulting industry. Before the pandemic, consultants were expected to travel frequently, a requirement which may have some people from entering the field – family-focused individuals for example, or people for who travel is challenging. Similarly, careers in mining used to demand that workers stick to a strict shift schedule, which made it difficult for people with family care commitments (disproportionately women) to enter the sector. Hybrid working adds flexibility to working practices and removes location from the equation. That means people are better able to fit work around their needs, allowing previously excluded groups into a broader range of careers. From a diversity and inclusion perspective, hybrid working promises to bring about significant, positive change.
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Accenture’s report makes it clear that in the future the secret to success will be about how businesses can make people productive anywhere and everywhere. Asia Pacific’s workers are more prepared than other areas to embrace the opportunities of hybrid working, and many businesses in the region already enable job autonomy, positive mental health, supportive leadership and digital maturity to make the model a success. That bodes very well for the region’s competitive edge in the years ahead.
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