Coping with massive disruption in Asia’s HR industry

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According to a recent Willis Towers Watson study, commissioned by Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower and the Institute of Human Resource Professionals (IHRP), digital technology is slated to disrupt 90% of HR roles in the next three to five years.

This trend is reflected at varying levels across countries in Asia and further propelled by the impact of COVID-19 related lockdowns from the early months of 2020.

In looking at some 27 roles in the human resources (HR) sector, the Singapore study expected significant transformation in how HR will work in the future, which five themes would underpin: enhancing job roles; future skilling; building consumer-grade practices; digitalised HR processes; and data-based decision making.

A McKinsey article echoes the broad edge of disruption, which included this comment by the CEO of a large tech company: “We are witnessing what will surely be remembered as a historical deployment of remote work and digital access to services across every domain.”

To gain further insights into how an HR services provider is coping with disruption and preparing for the future of work, Disruptive Asia recently spoke with Yip Hon Choong, chief operations officer of MYwave Sdn Bhd.

Yip Hon Choong

Seeing the rapid adoption of digitisation in his roles with multinationals and inculcating this culture into local businesses, he founded the company in 2005 with Khoo Siew Ling as chief executive officer and three other partners.

“Within a few years of inception, we were seeing a growing interest in digital HR, especially the Cloud Platform Solutions,” he continued. “This growing adoption of digital HR has also led to an increase in demand for outsourcing solutions such as payroll and administration. In line with this growing demand, I assumed the role of COO with a charter to strategise regional presence plans for our products and services.”

Headquartered on the Malaysian island of Penang, the specialist HR solutions company serves more than 65,000 subscribers across Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines in both the small and medium business (SMB) and enterprise sectors.

According to the company, 70% of their customers are multinationals such as Crocs, Yamaha, Tune Talk and others. MYWave is also part of a panel of digital enablers for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) organised by the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), an agency under the Malaysian communications and multimedia ministry.

COVID-19 catalyst

“I see it COVID-19 and the health emergency as a catalyst, which has accelerated changes in the way we work and live,” Yip said. “We have seen the acceleration of digital adoption across all business, functions, people, and age gaps. It has accelerated the adoption of practices like virtual meetings, remote working, online purchases, virtual classrooms etc.”

He agrees with many industry leaders that populations are becoming increasingly digitally literate and that businesses are ramping up implementations of online systems to carry out, for example, HRM (human resource management), ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relations management) systems, and so on.

Yip identified and commented on some of the key trends as:

  • Remote Working From Home (WFH) – During the crisis period, many countries imposed lockdowns, which resulted in significant shifts in working patterns for employees and business functionality.

    “HR Managements have had to revamp policies and practices to accommodate this new practice. This includes wellbeing policies and support offered to employees who now ‘WFH’ permanently as well as those on rotating schedules. Needs such as infrastructure support, travel policies during pandemic, etc., had to be established where necessary.”
  • Digitisation of HR – As an integral part of the organisation, HR needs to be operating efficiently, even during a continuity crisis.

    “Many businesses with HR operating with on-premise systems were facing challenges in performing their task. I had HR approaching us to activate our HR system for them at very short notice due to the constraint they are facing. Certain processes – such as payroll – must be performed regardless of condition to ensure employees are getting their salaries. Adopting an online HR platform provides assurance that HR processes can function during such a period.”
  • HR Business Continuity – Some of the HR functions, such as payroll or administration, are historically managed by a small HR team. This aspect has been a significant concern for business continuity in the event of the non-availability of a critical team member.

    “Many businesses are moving critical HR functions to outsource partners to ensure continuity. At MYWave, we have customers who engage us as their backup HR if such an event does happen.”

‘2020: The Year of Creativity’

“2020 was really a year where HR started to become creative as the ‘new normal’ brought about many changes in HR practices,” Yip commented.

Last year brought multiple challenges, many of which have abruptly upended the ways businesses operate.

“MYWave too experienced an impact in sales as potential customers were uncertain of the next step to take and more priorities were given to adaption of policies changes such as MCO [movement control order, Malaysia’s term for various forms of pandemic lockdowns] plus compliances,” Yip said. “Many were also focusing on re-organisation and re-strategising their business plans.”

“On the bright side, MYWave has always prioritised automation and digitisation,” he further added. “We work with our customers in automating and digitising their process, outsourcing their non-core process, and this has mitigated much of the impact during these challenging times. We also provide HR advisory and assistance to our customers, especially during this period, to help them pursue support and government grants to weather this period.”

“Our activities in this respect have had positive outcomes – as we have seen minimum attrition of customers. We have been able to retain almost100% of our customers to date and even have had more customers sign-up as well.”

“With more businesses moving towards social media platforms, MYWave’s presence has been boosted both within Malaysia and throughout the regions. It is exhilarating that we were experienced growth towards the 2nd half of 2020, which has since continued,” he added.

Key challenges to transformation

Speaking to the main challenges that HR professionals need to address this year, he points to communication and transformation as the key pillars or umbrellas to move ahead into 2021.

“Establishing an open communication channel with managers and employees will be a continuous challenge as the working environment has changed. Employees’ expectation and employers’ expectation may differ post-COVID-19. For example, there will be a portion of employees who prefer WFH permanently, but employers may have a different opinion. HR will have to advise and propose the best solutions to meet the business needs.”

“And the other essential umbrella is workforce transformation and wellbeing,” he continued. “With the shift into remote working, employees will require new skillsets and tools to be efficient. HR will have to strategise plans in enhancing required skills and additionally look into wellbeing requirements to support the employees in new normal, i.e. leadership training, new policies to support WFH, efficient communication tools, etc.”

 Talent gaps

Digital transformation initiatives often demand significant – even dramatic – re-alignment and enhancement of skill sets, including upskilling programs.

Many conventional HR functions encompass administrative and supporting functions, which implement a company’s strategic aims. “Therefore, transformation initiatives will require HR to assume a more strategic role as an analyst than administrative,” he explained.

“HR holds a great deal of data on employees and daily activities. Most of this data is dormant but has the potential to deliver actionable insights through the right data analysis.”

He regards data analytics as a game-changer, enabling the prediction of employee retention through Flight Risk Analysis and could empower managers to take the necessary steps to retain key employees. Other benefits include vital feedback to enrich employer-employee relations and so forth.

A new era

Digital Transformation is an essential process for all businesses, especially for HR, as it involves human interactions.

And a new era requires new strategies, he said. In essence, he points to:

  •  Digitisation and automation – “HR plays a critical role in spearheading digital transformation in the organisation, such as determining technology resources required for New Normal.”
  •  Best Practices – “Establishing best practices for the organisations to ensure continuous improvement in employees skillsets and encourages an open communication within the organisation (inclusiveness).”

Some of the factors in designing new ways of working and gathered under these two pillars are discussed in a recent Deloitte article and includes: introducing digital collaboration platforms, allowing for more personal choice in how work gets done; establishing new scheduling & meeting norms; investing in team leader training; providing home access to the internet and other needed technologies; and reconfiguring the physical workspace at home.

Yip also cited Saul Berman, chief strategist, VP & global digital business strategy practice leader for IBM Global Business Services, who in a Forbes article said: ‘We’ve moved from digital products and infrastructure to digital distribution and Web strategy to now into more holistic transformations that clearly are based on mobile, social media, digitisation and the power of analytics and we think it’s really a new era requiring new strategies.’

For his part, Yip’s concluding remark is: “HR in the ‘new normal’ and beyond requires a paradigm shift. We must be prepared to explore new technologies and adopt best practices in our roles as strategic business partners, and – to borrow from Star Trek – we must boldly go where no one has gone before!”

Related article: Snapshot: How COVID-19 is disrupting job opportunities for Malaysians

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