Deborah Chew - Aug 18, 2020

Helping Employees Emerge in the New Reality of Work

The following article is based on a panel discussion on “Helping Employees Emerge in the New Reality of Work", the first of a four-part webinar on The New Reality of Work – The Impact on Employees, Teams and Organisations, organised by Emergenetics Asia Pacific and SkillsFuture Singapore and held on 11 August 2020.

COVID-19 has for months, caused one of the biggest disruptions to businesses globally. While some organisations have pivoted quickly, others are still finding their footing to survive, much less thrive in this new reality.

As Victor Mills, Chief Executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce puts it, COVID-19 has forced businesses to “reset” as “complacency built over past successes are now being tested.”

But in these challenging times, it is not just the employees who have to think and worry about being and staying relevant. Challenging the topic at hand was Prof Annie Koh from the Singapore Management University, who is not only a Professor of Finance, but also Academic Director of both the Business Families Institute and International Trading Institute, “We not only have to think about helping employees, but also teams, leaders and the general public emerge stronger in this new reality of work.”

What then is this new reality of work?

The New Reality of Work

“Things are changing very fast and so it is more important for employees and companies to train for skills than for jobs."

- Tracy Lee, Director of the Human Resource Division
SkillsFuture Singapore Agency

“It’s about being flexi,” Koh adds. “Flexi-mind; flexi-location; flexi-work; flexi-jobs. No longer are these flexi-benefits applied only to women who need to juggle family and work demands; they now apply to everyone.”

In such volatile times, adopting an agile mindset for both organisations and employees are ever more needed. Jobs relevant today may not be so anymore tomorrow. And that’s why in this new reality, job descriptions cannot be one and done. “If a job description doesn’t work anymore, throw it out of the window,” says Low Peck Kem, President of the Singapore Human Resource Institute and Chief Human Resource Officer and Advisor at the Public Service Division.

“Things are changing very fast and so it is more important for employees and companies to train for skills than for jobs. This is to ensure that when jobs and markets change, one can quickly adapt the skills to be relevant to the new market demands,” explains Tracy Lee, Director of the Human Resource Division at SkillsFuture Singapore Agency.

So, what are the skills that are needed?

Skills for The New Reality of Work

“Life skills that cuts across roles and sectors are most important,” highlights Mills. “These include having a positive mindset, being adaptable, being able to communicate effectively and being able to work as a team across borders and cultures.”

Sharing her analogy of a three-legged stool, Koh adds, “We used to talk about a T-shape model where we have a deep knowledge of an area of expertise, and then a broad base of soft skills. But now we talk about a tripod instead, which gives us better stability.”

“In addition to the deep knowledge of a functional skill set, we also need to have sector skills (knowledge and experience in a particular sector) and market skills (knowledge and experience in local and global markets). These are important because in the event that one of these skill sets are no longer relevant, you have two other skill sets to balance on while you grow a new set of skills. With these, together with the soft skills, one can thrive,” Koh explains.

And as one thinks about acquiring new skills, we also realise that learning in this new reality has evolved.

“Learning now has become borderless and more affordable,” Lee highlights. “The MySkillsFuture Portal has a range of resources to help employees and organisations navigate the new learning realm. We highlight sectors that are growing and skill sets that are important. These include collaboration, working in teams and being agile.”

With many working from home, many individuals have found themselves learning new technologies quickly, causing the digital adoption rate to soar. But whilst technology has enabled most of us to continue to be productive as we work from home, it too, has provided its own set of challenges.

Challenges of The New Reality

In a survey conducted by Emergenetics APAC, 7 in 10 respondents interviewed shared that they saw themselves putting in longer hours.

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This comes as no surprise as many see the line separating work and home blurred. Without a clear demarcation of space for work versus home, many get absorbed into work without breaks or rest. And without visual cues of what one’s colleague could be doing, individuals have found themselves equally guilty of sending and responding to email and communication notifications almost 24/7.

“Technology is a great enabler, but we become bad users of it if we don’t put parameters,” Mills points out. “And because this is a marathon, and not a sprint, it is important for us to take regular breaks so that we don’t burn out.”

Further, there are challenges in building teams and trust when everyone is remote. This is especially so when onboarding new hires.

"We must not forget about the power of people and human interactions."

- Low Peck Kem, President, Singapore Human Resource Institute 
Chief Human Resource Officer Advisor, Public Service Division

“While technology has become an enabler in our current work situation, and as HR practitioners leverage it to better support our employees, leaders and organisations, we must not forget about the power of people and human interactions,” Low states. “This is still needed and needs to be preserved within the organisation.”

“Policies need to be put in place to build teams,” Lee adds. “We do not want a case of being out-of-sight; out-of-mind.”

Employees may sometimes too, regardless of whether they are in an SME or MNC, grapple with the lack of trust from their leaders in some instances. Examples include having to switch on their cameras throughout the working day or being monitored through their online status.

“Work from home arrangements demands greater level of mutual trust and teamwork. Leaders will soon realise that if they don’t change their mindsets about this, they will soon lose their employees,” warned Mills.

“Employers and employees have to trust by default,” adds Low. “It is time for leaders to trust that everyone wants to do a good job.”

But the onus is not all on the employers or leaders of the organisation.

“Employees too, have to be responsible,” Koh points out. “In today’s world, coming together to collaborate is more important than ever.”

“Work from home arrangements demands greater level of mutual trust and teamwork."

- Victor Mills, Chief Executive 
Singapore International Chamber of Commerce

Looking Forward to The New Reality of Work

Looking ahead, to thrive in this new reality of work, one needs to thus have a change in mindset. And as businesses pivot, change, experiment and renew themselves to thrive in this new reality, so must its people.

“In this new normal, we need a new mindset,” says Low. “We can’t be choosey and expect the same jobs and the same pay to be there. We need to be flexible and be open to new opportunities to learn. The SGUnited Jobs Initiative and SGUnited Traineeship Programme provides such opportunities to learn.”

Leaders too, have to relook at the way they lead and care for their people. Trust and relationships have to be built, and more has to be invested into the mental well-being of employees. And that requires a higher level of communication.

“Communicate. Communicate. Communicate,” stresses Koh. “We cannot build trust if we don’t communicate with each other. We need to stay human and communicate.”

“We have to be human-centric and treat people with respect,” adds Lee.

Agreeing, Mills adds, “Leaders often have to make tough decisions, and if people have to be let go, do it with respect and dignity. Look beyond the contracts and treat people well. This will reap dividends that will help the business down the line.”

“We cannot build trust if we don’t communicate with each other. We need to stay human and communicate.”

- Prof Annie Koh, Singapore Management University

And as businesses reshape themselves, HR practitioners too, have an opportunity to see how they are crucial to the success of the organisation.

“HR practitioners have to know not just what the business needs but to be able to translate the value employees bring to the business,” Low highlights. “They need to understand what core functional competencies are needed, and on top of that an understanding of behavioural competencies and mindsets of their potential hires.”

And as the new reality becomes more volatile, more demanding and more challenging, perhaps, job roles in the future will be filled not by individuals but by teams put together to fulfil tasks. This “talent share” concept highlighted by Koh could very well be the new normal moving forward, making trust building, collaboration and communication ever more important skills sets to own.

There is much to learn, unlearn and relearn in this new reality for all of us, and as Low points out, “Let’s not waste a good crisis” and emerge stronger than ever.

The video recording for this webinar is available online. Click on this link to watch the full session.

Written by Deborah Chew