Balancing business and workforce needs to bring out the best

30 April 2021

The pandemic brought on many disruptions, but one change that will outlast the crisis is the move to a hybrid work model, with certain days in the office and others remote; many organisations are not going back. Yet, common questions we get from executives is - how to redesign the workspace whereby people and technology thrive better together, or how to measure workforce productivity.

Shift to new norms, what is at stake?

As more workload becomes digitised and is shifted to the cloud, flexibility and agility are the ‘new normal’. The value proposition now caters to ramping up investments in the best tools and technology to enhance the employee experience, one that is conducive and healthy for physical and remote teams.

Behind every successful high performing team is a high performing culture enabled by an inclusive, purpose-led workplaces, and where people’s needs are being met. During prolonged periods of remote working, people have to collaborate, digitally upskill and work autonomously to maintain quality output. Today, people have to take ownership of learning new skills to fulfil career goals.

But, should success be measured in people’s ability to pivot to digital collaboration tools, and show their creativity, or is it their commitment to learning and taking ownership to accelerate their performance? In reality, the hybrid mode of the new ‘anywhere employee,’ means employee experience varies widely in a remote environment and to individual circumstances.

This reminds me of a recent webinar where I shared a session of strategic choices with non-executive directors about how to deliver business transformation in the post-pandemic workplace. This includes making critical decisions of investments in the future workforce that brings value to customers and employees alike, without harming performance or losing talent.

Trust and technology

The pandemic has encouraged companies to place more trust in technology that lets people communicate and collaborate effectively. Therefore, it is critical for companies to boost investments in technology that helps promote collaboration and feeling of inclusiveness among all employees, regardless of their location. Over a year into hybrid work models pushed many people to learn new technology, proving how critical upskilling is to ensure employees are equipped with the skills to stay agile and market centric for the digital world. This includes using automation technology to replace manual, repetitive tasks to free up employees for creative and cognitive work, which lends to higher satisfaction as it empowers ownership in one’s learning and career development.

The same view is reinforced in PwC’s 24th Global CEO Survey, which found a growing number of CEOs are seeking to boost their organisation’s competitiveness through digital investments in the workforce; 37% aim to focus on productivity through technology and automation, currently more than double the share of CEOs who said the same in 2016.

Impact of technology on jobs

That said, productivity through automation threatens to leave some behind. Although just 20% of CEOs are ‘extremely concerned’ about economic inequality as a threat to their growth prospects – the pandemic has amplified asymmetries among individuals, companies and countries.

We know that automation and technological disruption are inevitable, but we can control its negative effects being filtered down to employees. The potential negative effects are job insecurity and lack of trust in leadership. For example, if people feel performance targets trump opportunities to learn new skills to keep up with technology, this could be potentially demotivating and create a negative culture.

Asia Pacific CEOs focus on productivity through automation and technology

To move with demand and create value, PwC have extended benefits of our digital transformation investments across our services, products and people. We have invested in training our people in a USD3bn upskilling programme, as we a rolled out a broader, external campaign called, ‘New World. New Skills.' It aims to bridge the digital skills gap and prepare our people to work with technology, ensuring they have the skills needed to succeed in the digital world, and for organisations to stay agile and innovative.

So, what do employees feel is important and how can they benefit from technological change sweeping organisations? People are central to driving innovation, and a company culture can only co-exist with trust and like-minded people, regardless of the best technology and tools.

To shed light on what employees in China think of the impact of technological change to their jobs, here are two findings I shared at the webinar, taken from a recent survey - one of the largest global surveys of workers - that polled 32,500 workers in 19 countries PwC Hopes & Fears 2021, China report.

Pandemic-induced hopes and fears

Since the pandemic renewed hopes and fears around employment, it reveals three areas where employees in China feel it is important for employers:

  • 85% of Chinese employees believe their lack of access to technology has hindered their ability to develop skills. Leaders need to provide the best tools and technology for employees to do their jobs.
  • 81% of employees in China are keen to reskill as needed, but disparities in access to training remain. Leaders need to create more inclusive opportunities to upskill.
  • 50% fear that technology might make their job obsolete in the next 5 years. As companies accelerate their automation plans and jobs continue to be remote, employees across every sector will need to acquire new skills that enable them to think and work in different ways.

Hybrid model, how do we get it right?

As organisations manage hybrid teams with a mix of remote and on-site work, what more can management do to nurture and encourage an agile and, digitally-skilled mind set? This start with changes that improve the employee experience and support new norms of remote working that allow people to perform at their best. In particular - understanding what challenges people face and resources needed to work securely and seamlessly from anywhere.

Looking back, COVID-19 accelerated existing trends and needs of businesses to rapidly advance their digitisation. However, with so much renewed fears to remain employable in the post-pandemic future, we have the responsibility to provide people with the right skills and the right training to enable employees’ full participation in the workforce.

One thing is certain, companies are not going back to pre-pandemic working ways. The imperative for change starts with creating an inclusive, sustainable workplace that allow people to do their best work, and without fear. That makes them more valuable to our firm, and in the job market. They say a crisis brings out the best in people; as it happens, this is true of organisations as well.