It is May 2021, depending on whom you speak to these days people have their views of what they think will happen in the workplace this year. One thing is certain, flexibility is the new vocabulary for HR and employers.
In a blog post, Brian Kropp, group vice president at Gartner, wrote that “organisations that offer employees flexibility over when, where and how much they work, see 55% of their workforce as high performers. In 2021, I expect to see a rise of new jobs where employees will be measured by their output, as opposed to an agreed-upon set of hours.”
Output makes sense and it is something I told my HR manager when I was justifying the lack of presence of my staff in and around the office. I reasoned that the work environment we had was unproductive to editors who need a quiet place to think as they write stories.
But this rationale may not apply to everyone. FutureCIO approached three senior executives for their perspective on HR in Asia after COVID-19. These include Sharon Cheng, group chief people officer from Tricor Group and Su Anne Mi, co-founder & COO and Jasmine Koh, director of people experience, both from The Great Room (TGR).
Do you see any changes in the mindset and approach of HR and other business leaders when it comes to safety and health in the workplace following COVID-19?
Jasmine Koh: Organizations must be more flexible and innovative in how employees are going to work. Gone are the days, where you need to be at work 9 to 5, desk-bound, with face-to-face meetings. Instead, organizations must embrace the use of technology and trust the employees are still able to deliver work as if they were during the pre-COVID-19 situation.
Su Anne Mi: Employee wellbeing, from a safety as well as mental & emotional standpoint, has become ever more paramount. At TGR we now call it People Experience because it encompasses the entire experience that an employee and team member has rather than just traditional compensation, benefits, development and performance.
There is also increased focus on employee benefits (for instance swab tests, increased flexibility with rostering, flexi-benefits; people can allocate what they need to spend on), and addressing the emotional well-being of team members (for instance, mental fatigue or security and comfort in a safe and clean workspace)
Sharon Cheng: The pandemic brought the issues of workplace safety, health and wellbeing into board room discussions. Safety management systems will be considered an integral part of an organisation’s overall risk framework – not just something that the HR department deals with.
The pandemic expanded the focus areas of HR to include mental health benefits, stress management, telehealth, financial wellness, personalized wellness programs, expanded employee assistance, support of virtual work, and adapted workplace design.
How can businesses provide improved health and safety measures without violating the privacy rights of employees?
Jasmine Koh: Space constraints may be one of the many reasons why employees can no longer come and work together in the same “space”. Because without physical presence, employers might find it hard to monitor employees’ productivity and time spent working.
However, before employers thought of monitoring employees, employers should always consider whether there is a legit business interest to monitor employees that might violate employees’ privacy rights.
Su Anne Mi: We need to be vigilant about health and safety measures which generally do not violate privacy rights, but rather provide reassurance and comfort - for instance, increased cleaning and disinfection, temperature readings, limiting capacity numbers, etc.
Sharon Cheng: One way to balance health and safety measures with privacy is to match any policy change with privacy impact assessments (PIAs), determining how employee privacy will be impacted by each measure.
Other strategies include communicating policy objectives to get employee buy-in, inform all employees of their rights, keep data private and secure, narrowly tailor any health screenings/questionnaires, understand all regulations in your jurisdiction, and implement a system that ensures the proper procedures are adopted consistently.
Any best practice for this as organizations adopt a hybrid workplace?
Jasmine Koh: Businesses could consider splitting the employees into teams and move their workplace to co-working space where office spaces are much spacious, amenities and internet access and deployment could be readily available.
Working in co-space allows safe management measures such as allowing teams to work in the different workplace at any one time, use of technology connects employees without the need to physically be in the same workplace.
Common areas are sanitated regularly and safe management officers are constantly coordinating and monitoring to keep the workplace safe.
Su Anne Mi: We are prioritizing how to thrive while some people are working from home, whilst others are in the office and turn this into an advantage.
One thing we are working on is creating connections with members and employees virtually. It’s easy when you see everyone face to face every day; but how do you stay aligned and connected when teams are separated.
This could be done on all levels — whether it is a digital meetup or social event which includes sending a physical goody bag to everyone’s home or ensuring your leadership team is all the more aligned via regular OKR sessions or forums or encouraging employees to up-skill and get trained in better communication and management.
Sharon Cheng: With uncertainty the order of the day, agility in operations and people management is still the best practice recommendation. To thrive, employers need to be adequately prepared for both in-person and remote work. Redefine the purpose of the “workplace”, i.e., what are activities you must do in the office?
But virtual work holds implications for other factors, including employee engagement, productivity, processes and organisational structure.
Furthermore, employers must not overlook that being agile also means that, when the time is right and when necessary, they can safely and effectively bring people back into the office. This means staying ahead of regulatory and compliance, outfitting workspaces as needed and establishing policies for safety and comfort.