Why traditional workplaces and practices are on their way out

Change is already happening, and Microsoft's new study posits that HR leaders in Asia have to lead the transformation.

The traditional workplace might soon be a thing of the past. 

With digital natives and millennials, who prioritise mobility over other factors, set to dominate the global workforce by 2020, organisations and HR are under increasing pressure to provide flexible working options and other progressive practices.

But Asia continues to lag behind western countries when it comes to mobile working, Microsoft’s new Asia Workplace 2020 Study found.

Across the region, 46% of some 4,200 workers surveyed say they have the option to work remotely, compared to over 60% in the US.

A lot more can be done to move the needle, says Byron Rader, Microsoft Office Division Lead for Asia Pacific.

Asked why Asia is slower at introducing flexi-work practices, Rader says that’s because there is a deep-rooted culture in some countries like Japan and South Korea, where face-time in the office is mandatory and viewed as more secure than working online.

“At one particular South Korean multinational, for example, employees have to check in every day by 9.30am. If not, they will receive an email from HR asking them where they are,” he says.

But Rader believes that in three to five years, most conglomerates will be operating very differently. 

“They’re starting to realise the cloud is actually more secure than their current infrastructure,” he says, adding that there are, in fact, companies that have started incentivising staff to work remotely.

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence will also change the workplace significantly in the near future, because people no longer have to be in constant, close physical proximity.

“As the nature of work changes, how employees collaborate and work together will be impacted as well,” says Kevin Wo, Managing Director, Microsoft Singapore.

“It is critical for business and HR leaders to seek ways to better empower individuals and remove barriers to collaborate for the digital age, especially when the study clearly identifies gaps that can be minimised with technology.”

At present, only 37% of Singapore professionals feel empowered by their organisation’s culture and managers to be able to work together productively and collaboratively.

Furthermore, only 26% of respondents agree leadership is committed to “closing the digital skills gaps”.

Energy utility company SP Group and financial institution DBS Bank are two organisations that have digitally transformed their workplaces to become more collaboration-centric and mobile-friendly.

Samuel Tan, Chief Digital Officer of SP Group, says the company rebranded itself in the last 12 months, by ramping up its digital capabilities.

The company introduced many collaborative technologies and applications to encourage greater innovation among its teams.

SP Group found that the digital facelift has been beneficial in attracting a wider range of talent.

For DBS Bank, its digital transformation journey started years ago, but utilising newer technologies such as Microsoft 365 and Yammer, launched the DBS Asia X (DAX) space in November last year.

DAX, located at Singapore’s Fusionopolis hub, is a 16,000 sq ft innovation space that has project pods and spaces, and co-working spaces open to all employees seeking a change of environment and inspiration, says Annie Ye, Head of DAX.

“We have many employees from the main Marina Bay Financial Centre office coming here to work, and it has proved to very popular,” says Ye. 

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