The current pandemic may have indelibly changed how businesses in the region will operate, according to a recent whitepaper.

Amid the pandemic, technology giant Microsoft found that, while organizations have prioritized technology adoption to enable remote working environments and overall business transformation, the change was not driven through technology alone.

According to Dr Joseph Sweeney, IBRS Advisor and Future of Work expert, the technology uptake had been relatively straightforward. The tools were already available, and anyone familiar with Office applications adapted the changes.

Faced with a forced mindset change, organizations had to rethink ways of working: how individuals, groups, and managers interact with one another, and what change management was needed to adjust to the new ways of working, especially with regard to emotional impact.

Through its qualitative research study Microsoft analyzed business and thought leaders across Asia Pacific industries – banking, healthcare, education, telecommunications, research, and professional consultancies – and gleaned some emerging trends in how organizational cultures in Asia-Pacific are evolving to a new paradigm of work.

Emerging trends in the workplace

Organizations need to be aware of the following observations when they plan for the hybrid new ways of work:

  1. The risk of burnout
    Organizations need to be mindful of the new perception of availability. According to Sweeney, one common response amongst people in their jobs is to “work harder and not switch off”. Those who have started working from home are fielding calls from their bosses late into the evening, underlining the need to re-draw boundaries for out-of-hours contact.
  1. Career progression concerns
    Organizations will need to reassess how performance is measured. Collaboration tools can measure activity but not the value that an individual has brought to the organization. Organizations are now finding that it is the ‘introverts’ that are delivering while working from home, while the ‘star player’ extroverts are no longer the center of attention.

  2. The need for flexibility and empathy
    Research finds that nearly half (47%) of people working from home reported managing at-home distractions as a challenge. Organizations, managers and teammates should do their part to not only help employees create a distraction-free environment but also be more flexible in the delivery of work and empathize with people’s challenges of working from home. 
  3. Tech training and preparedness
    As technology becomes a growing staple for employees, training will need to go hand-in-hand to unlock the full potential of hardware and software. SaidDr Nitin Paranjape, CEO and Founder, MacOffice Services Private Limited: “There have been people who were resistant to change—it was usually the seniors, because they never needed to learn how to use technology. They always had IT support in the room when they needed it.” 
  1. Incorporating a social element
    Organizations need to intentionally focus on policy and company culture rather than raw technology. The Microsoft Work Trend Index released in April 2020 reflected this ongoing quest for human interaction—the number of people turning on video in Microsoft Teams meetings had doubled from before working from home became mainstream.

    Beyond enabling video conferencing, organizations need to find ways to encourage innovation, creative flow of ideas, and camaraderie that make employees feel that they are a valued part of an organization.

The future of work is Now and Hybrid

Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, shared: “The last five months have made it clear that tech intensity is the key to business resilience. Organizations that build their own digital capability will recover faster and emerge from this crisis stronger.”

Without a doubt, COVID-19 had accelerated the transition to new ways of working, and also honed the focus on innovation across the region. At the same time, social and cultural environments continue to have a considerable impact on how organizations approach the new era of work. In some cases, organizations are in the process of aligning themselves to the national government’s own response to the changing nature of work.

One primary school in Japan had to find ways to respond to the changing regulatory environment around work that the government had been implementing. It has just started a new working schedule, to follow the new labor laws in Japan. The school has had to think about how to match compliance with flexibility for each teacher’s individual circumstances and preferences. 

In countries where commutes are longer, organizations will find that more staff wish to work remotely. Said Andy Khoo, Maybank Head of Customer Experience, based in Singapore: “The appeal is often due to the convenience of professionals being able to manage their own timing. There’s less transportation and time spent on the road, particularly in countries like Indonesia, Thailand and India, where commutes can be long. For other places, like Singapore, it’s simply that staff find they’re more productive when working from home.”

Coalescing work life with personal life

In countries with expensive real estate—such as Australia and Singapore—businesses will find financial benefit in transitioning to a model where office space is shared and cycled among employees that spend part of the time in the office, and other times working from home.

The hybrid approach in the future of work reflects how the lines of work and personal life are blurring. Beyond the typical 9am-5pm work day, Microsoft Teams chats outside of the typical workday (from 8-9 a.m. and 6-8 p.m.) had increased more than any other time during the day, by between 15% and 23%. Weekend work had been spiking as well – by over 200%.

To cultivate the future workplace, organizations would need to accelerate the process of developing policies enabling individuals to break away from the standard 9 to 5 hours, setting reasonable expectations around availability and relooking performance indicators.

Business leaders must refresh their focus on policies that enable the upkeep of robust security strategies and effective collaboration. As lockdowns continue to ease across the region, the next step will be a renewed focus on policy during this hybrid new normal of work.