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Dealing with digital technology’s disruptive impact on the workforce

Read how digital technology is disrupting traditional workforce patterns across Southeast Asia.

Overview

Digital technology is disrupting traditional work patterns across Southeast Asia, a region characterized by high technology adoption. Recent research by Accenture outlines the changes sweeping this region, and identifies four steps that Southeast Asian companies can take now to maximize benefits and minimize disruption.

Accenture undertook several in-depth conversations with C-level executives, employee focus groups and conducted a regional survey of over 400 businesses operating in Southeast Asia to help HR and IT leaders understand the fundamental changes sweeping through their workforces, with a specific focus on the rapidly rising influence of the youngest cohort of workers, Generation Y.

Background

The growing use of digital technology in employees’ private lives is disrupting established work patterns—and nowhere is that more true than in the economic powerhouse that is Southeast Asia.

Employees in organizations around the world are increasingly using their own devices (smartphones and tablets, for example), apps and tools in the workplace, with or without the approval of management. Driven by their personal experiences outside of the office, employees often perceive these tools as easier and more enjoyable to use compared to those provided by their company. As the line between employees’ personal and work lives continues to blur, particularly among Generation Y, the demand and adoption of such digital tools in the workplace for both personal and work purposes is only going to accelerate.

Companies need to assess how best to leverage digital tools or they will face two key risks:

  • The loss of employee engagement, as well as the productivity and innovation improvements associated with digital use.

  • The bypassing of outdated policies and systems, creating a security risk.

The impact and associated risks are more acute in Southeast Asia given the region’s insatiable appetite for all things digital, and the high proportion of young people. These Generation Yers have a distinctly different profile from previous generations in terms of their attitudes toward work and propensity for digital tools. Having spent their entire life living with the Web, instant messaging, mobile phones and social networks, digital content is absolutely integral to their everyday activities, regardless of where they are or whether the activity is work or personal. As such, they are better networked, more open and used to having access to digital tools to complete tasks. They view any constraints on such usage imposed by employers as barriers to freedom and choice.

These issues matter enormously. Twenty first century talent chooses not only whom to work for, but where, when and how. Companies that recognize and adapt early to this new reality will not just drive greater collaboration and efficiency across their workforce but will also gain significant value in attracting, empowering, inspiring and retaining the best young talent for continued growth and profitability.

Analysis

Despite all the changes that digital technologies are driving within the workplace, our research revealed that while business leaders across Southeast Asia recognize the need to implement various programs to facilitate employee engagement, collaboration and innovation, the adoption of such tools and practices, beyond facilitating internal communications is worryingly low:

  • Only 27 percent allow employees to use their own hardware and/or software applications.

  • Only 35 percent allow employees to access customer data remotely.

  • Only 39 percent use social media to attract new talent.

  • Only 42 percent allow employees to work from home or flexible hours.

  • Only 48 percent use internal social media platforms for knowledge sharing.

This reflects the relative immaturity of Southeast Asian organizations or leaders as they struggle to understand the impact of digital in engaging the workforce.

Four key issues have been identified for Southeast Asian companies to consider. We believe that enterprises that promote discussion and debate around these topics should at least be able to move beyond the current state of paralysis in which they find themselves. Some pointers:

  • Move beyond myopic perception of digital to consider employee engagement and innovation.

  • Understand the varying levels of comfort and interest in digital tools among the workforce.

  • Bridge the digital divide between business leaders and digital natives.

  • Effectively track and measure workplace digital investments.

Recommendations

While the strategy for building a digital-enabled workplace will vary by market, industry and organization, there are four immediate actions that Southeast Asian companies can take today to maximize the benefits that digital brings while minimizing the disruptive impact:

  • Understand the current reality of your internal digital landscape.

  • Craft a clear strategy that brings together both HR and IT leaders toward common goals.

  • Adapt the strategy to your organization’s unique digital personas.

  • Communicate to your workforce and “walk the talk.”

Ultimately, the goal is to cultivate a workplace culture that is open, empowered and conversation-basedwith a continuous “test, learn, optimize” mindset.