How can businesses navigate the workplace of the future?

Building a resilient workforce, People & Organisations
With minimal semblance of ‘Business as Usual’ in a post-pandemic world, Asia’s business leaders face a tough new task. After months of lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), organisations are wrestling with the problem of how to return people back to the workplace when employees remain wary of the virus, companies are uncertain about regulations and revenue, and economies are still reeling.
Some organisations are viewing the pandemic as a rare opportunity to drive economic and employee value. In a global economy where, intangible assets are becoming more valuable than the physical ones, understanding how our people work best could be a good place to start.
Diagram 1 - 80% of businesses in Asia are rethinking their operating models based on how their people work best 
“Business leaders are acutely aware that the human capital decisions they make now will shape their future,” says Pete Bentley, Global CCO and Future of Work Leader, Human Capital Solutions at Aon. “This is an opportunity to enable workforce change and to really understand your workforce and what they are capable of.”
Embrace the future of work
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a complete transformation of the way we work, communicate, travel, and go about our daily lives. Across sectors and industries, businesses have been forced to adopt a remote working model, which means sourcing and adopting new technologies at lightning speed and on an unprecedented scale.
“In Singapore, for example, we have seen businesses display outstanding resilience by accelerating workforce changes such as adapting to remote work, using digital collaboration platforms, and an upending of old paradigms,” notes Na Boon Chong, Managing Director & Partner Human Capital Solutions – Southeast Asia, Aon. “The focus quickly shifted to data, analytics, and technology adoption − thus ushering in the future of work, a state often defined by increased digitalisation, far sooner than we had imagined.”
To highlight this shift in the way we work, several Aon surveys have seen employees across Asia expressing the desire to have the flexibility to work from home or in the office. “Mindset changes and behavioural norms have to move towards defining work as something we do, and not somewhere we go,” says Bentley.
However, turning this desire to a process that meets the needs of the organisation is another matter. One way to do this would be to introduce an integrated ecosystem of digital and technology resources to bolster workplace productivity.
A workforce planning approach
As economies across Asia begin to reopen, business leaders will face some tough challenges including predicting demand or the changes in consumer patterns or even the rate at which the economy rises back to life. All of these will have a direct effect on how a company plans for its employees to return to the workplace.
The way forward includes developing a strategy that answers some of the critical questions, Bentley and Na explain. These include who should work from the office, how leaders can save money while enhancing workforce agility and how receptive to change and ambiguity the workforce is.
Diagram 2 - 5 critical questions when developing workforce strategy 
“Do not stop here, though. The answers to the above questions and building an agile and resilient workforce need not be mutually exclusive,” adds Bentley.
To approach these critical issues, organisations need to focus on who among their workforce should be back in the office first. This involves a thorough understanding of pivotal roles, their impact, and how to enable them to be productive within a timed workday. Fewer people in the office will not only reduce infrastructure costs but also help companies navigate the government mandates on social distancing.
Workforce planning backed by data and analytics will lead to greater productivity and most importantly, it will align people to the individual environment that suits them best.
“Using data and analytics, we can draw insights on the skills, roles, capabilities, culture, demographics, and cognitive diversity,” Bentley explains. “We can check the workings, drivers, and assumptions underlying our workforce’s innate capabilities and observe how that changes over time.”
“We can also provide clarity on which roles and options are most suited to the business, while giving employees ownership of their careers to help drive mobility and grow,” he adds. “Last but not the least, we can adjust these to see the changes in outcome or returns on investment – the most elusive of future of work efforts.”
Define who you are and how you work
In response to this unprecedented crisis, many companies prioritised quick thinking and nimbleness, forming specialised teams and adopting rapid decision-making.
“Teams that came together during the COVID-19 crisis often turned out to be faster and better at making decisions, despite the many ambiguities,” says Na. Now, as Asian economies begin to gradually move back into its offices, maintaining this agility will be essential to building on this progress.
Employers’ integrity will also be key post-pandemic.
“As you seek to bring people back into the workplace, the unwritten social contract between the employer and the employee will be of utmost importance,” says Peter Zhang, Chief Executive Officer, Aon Consulting, China. “Did you put the safety of your employees and communities first or did you just pay lip service to the idea? The answer to this question will be pivotal for employees to feel a sense of shared purpose and work together to realise your business goal.”
As we consider the post-pandemic workplace, companies who focus on the safety, wellbeing and agility of their employees will be well-positioned. And at a time of ongoing uncertainty, we can recognise one truth. “Regressing to business as usual is no longer an option,” says Zhang. “The future is already here.”
Diagram 3 - Pete Bentley, Global CCO & Future of Work Leader, Human Capital Solutions, Aon
A version of this article was first published on The One Brief Asia.
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