Businesses across the AsiaPac region thought they had weathered the worst COVID-19 had to throw at them, but businesses have realised that working remotely or flexibly is a fundamental part of the new work reality and not a temporary fix.
The initial focus for most businesses when lockdowns first took place was almost entirely on ensuring that existing staff had the right tools to be productive at home. Not enough attention was paid to employees’ living arrangements to understand whether they had a dedicated space at home to work, if family dynamics that would allow them to work, and the mental health impacts of working in sudden isolation, especially once the home and work divide evaporated.
The considerations of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) laws that have shaped traditional workplaces, such as the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Act in Singapore, also extends to staff working remotely. Essentially, employers have a duty of care to ensure the health and safety of remote workers and provide access to resources wherever additional support is needed. It is incumbent upon leaders to protect workers, and not just equip them with software licenses with the hope that they clock their daily hours.
This could include providing practical guidance on setting up a home office, requiring employees to complete a self-assessment, allowing them to borrow equipment from the office, ensuring workers fully log off from work, and setting up a safe office environment with flexible hours. These issues, along with the technology challenges that come with providing secure access to the systems, applications and data people need to do their jobs from home, can prove to be a daunting task. Then add the onboarding of new employees as companies respond to sudden changes in customer needs.
Addressing the realities of fluctuating employee numbers across multiple locations requires fast, responsive workforce lifecycle strategies and new approaches to using technology to suit an unpredictable work environment. Enter, the agile workforce.
A new workplace culture
Before remote working was mandated, office culture in Singapore and across Southeast Asia centred on face-to-face interactions, and cities such as Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok became known for its traffic congestion during peak hours. In an office environment, silos between business units and operational arms led to inefficiencies, unnecessary duplication, and mistakes that caused customer dissatisfaction or ran afoul of regulators. Many of these frustrating issues were overcome with workers meeting in person to ensure that departments were on the same page – both literally and figuratively.
Over time, processes built up around these inefficiencies – not to eradicate it, but to mitigate its risks. Now, with employees working remotely, many of these processes and procedures simply don’t translate to the virtual world. The virtual workplace requires a new culture that is adapted to the constantly changing economic conditions. Systems and processes that were historically segregated between siloed departments, technologies and employees need to be integrated so that businesses have a comprehensive view of operations through data.
Streamlining the onboarding and integration of new hires
Responding to the new normal successfully requires a flexible onboarding process. Culture starts the minute a new hire is brought into the business, so it is critical to get off to the right start.
Consider how rapidly companies such as Lazada and HappyFresh managed the spike in users earlier this year as more people began shopping online. Not only did new workers have to be quickly inducted and brought up-to-date with procedures and safety protocols, there was a significant recruitment effort to find them. Onboarding new workers is even more challenging when they will always be remote workers. True workforce agility lies in the ability to rapidly onboard critical workers to support customers in a time of need.
Ready for anything
Onboarding processes in offices were isolated and disconnected. Just consider the amount of paperwork and forms required for each new hire. Manual procedures straddled multiple departments and time spent training employees on the multiple platforms needed to do their job effectively delayed the introduction of new employees, impacting customer satisfaction.
Today, workplaces must have easy-to-use, secure tools readily available for employees regardless of if they are working at home or in an office. Replacing physical forms with online forms removes the need for handling, and workflow automation ensures that the forms are immediately logged with the appropriate departments. This greatly streamlines the entire process and reduces the risk of costly errors. Fast and flexible workforce management strategies are critical for businesses to become agile enterprises that are ready for any changes in the business environment.
Written by Lawrence Ng, General Manager, Asia, Boomi.