HR trumps tech when deploying 'next-gen workplace'

Crafting out a holistic HR policy to factor in considerations such as compensation and career progression is more important than deciding what tech to adopt when deploying the "next-generation workplace".
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

A company policy centering on employees' needs and ways to meet their work demands will need to be in place in order to reap the full benefits that the "next-generation workplace" brings.

At a panel discussion, Dinesh Malkani, Asia-Pacific and Japan managing director for collaboration solutions at Cisco Systems, defined a next-generation workplace as one with flexible hours, hot desking, social collaboration, and use of mobile devices. The event was jointly organized by Cisco and the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore held Thursday.

The technology, as well as culture, of the new workplace model means "telepresence can be done at home, in your hotel room or in a taxi" and not just a fixed room or office desk. "[It is] wherever location you choose to be your workplace. The new workplace is highly visual, social, and mobile," Malkani said, adding this workplace model is turning the traditional office model into a "dinosaur."

The emergence of the next-generation workplace came about because employers are increasingly seeing the entry of workers who are Generation Y or Millenials. These individuals show greater digital literacy than preceding generations, and value work-life balance, flexible work hours, and social networking, he said.

Han Kwee Juan, CEO and country business manager of Citibank Singapore, who was on the same panel, had a different view. He said the ability to have a flexible work schedule and to work anywhere is not limited to younger-generation workers but all generations, including Baby Boomers and Generation X.

Technology is not the first thing his company considers when looking to implement what Han described as "alternative work strategies". Rather, developing a suitable human resource (HR) policy is the top priority.

"The first thing we did was look at our human resource policy to see if there were any hindrances to provide flexible working. We also made sure we had flexibility in terms of compensation, career progression, and KPIs [key performance indicators]," Han elaborated.

The main driver for implementing the next-generation workplace must come from top management in order for the initiative to take off, while feedback from employees is a must so the company knows what they want in terms of flexibility, the executive said.

Managers must also be trained with regard to managing and evaluating staff they do not see physically in the office on a daily basis, he added.

Asked if the real benefit for having the next-generation workplace is cost savings, Han disagreed. He said the upside from having a collaborative, flexible space that employees enjoy is improved staff retention.

"Cost saving [from the technology and productivity] is a bonus. Because if you lose the talent, the cost of replacement and disruption to business outweighs any cost savings you get," he said.

Simon Kahn, chief marketing officer for Asia-Pacific at Google, another panelist, concurred. He said when cost savings is the focus of any effort to push a next-gen workplace, the company will face a big challenge getting the project to take off successfully.

"Putting employees first and making the workplace an interesting and fun extension of their everyday life; it's good [for] retaining [staff]," Kahn said.

Asia primed for next-gen workplace
Kahn also pointed out that Asia as a region is primed for the next-gen workplace, due to the advanced adoption of mobile devices where some regional markets actually exceed the penetration rate of developed markets in other regions.

Craig Gledhill, vice president of regional enterprise business at Samsung Electronics, added that a "perfect storm" has gathered, pointing to the growing adoption of cloud technologies and "smart devices" alongside the uptick in long-term evolution (LTE) networks. These factors essentially opened up an opportunity for companies to seriously consider an alternative to the traditional workplace, he said.

Since employees can now work off their mobile devices, the workplace is wherever you can bring this device. "Now you have options, because compute is more accessible to the general public," said Gledhill.

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