As businesses evolve in the digital age, so must the workplace, to meet expectations
CHANGE is inevitable.
The transformational nature of the workplace typifies change in recent years as businesses tackle the challenges and opportunities created by a post-Covid-19 socio-economic environment.
Digital transformation is perhaps a relatively new phrase but its underlying principles are rooted in history.
Often referred to as “Industrial Revolutions”, businesses have over the years engaged with technology to make incremental improvements to organisational efficiency, drive performance and afford employees the chance to reskill themselves. With today’s transformation, however, you get a sense that this is truly revolutionary with attitudinal and behavioural change among employees, a different level of engagement with the workplace, and clear differences in how work is conducted and enforced.
While change is constant, is this change going to be the most revolutionary, or just another stage in the evolutionary cycle of work?
Digital transformation continues to have positive and negative impact on Malaysian employees.
Several themes have emerged which can be grouped around three main pillars: the changing role and expectations of employees; the increasing importance of employee welfare; and the employee relationship with the workplace.
Transformational change precipitates an adjustment to the required scope, role and skills required of an employee.
Employer expectations change, and inevitably increase, with continuous personal development and lifelong learning becoming the go-to phrases in the employer playbook.
The digital nature of this transformational change has necessitated more focus on training and upskilling employees to adjust to an evolving job, become more resilient to change, and stay relevant.
It is with regard to the digital relevance of the employees in today’s workplace that a balance between adapting to employment disruption and ensuring workforce well-being must be maintained.
We are all very much aware of the “great attrition” where some employees have become disillusioned with their careers and begun to reevaluate their work-life balance.
Many employees are making a conscious decision to change how, where and why they work.
Entrepreneurial engagement continues to present a favourable alternative to the rat race as does diligence in the gig economy and investment markets.
Given the increasing demands to adapt to new roles and meet the interests of ever-exacting employers and consumers, some employees are experiencing stress, a blurring of the boundaries between work and life, and ultimately burnout.
Historically, Asian countries are known for their positive attitudes towards work, with digital transformation accentuating this perception, offering employees opportunities to become increasingly diverse, multiskilled and agile.
For those employees willing to accept the challenge, career growth awaits but at a cost, hence the debate around the great attrition and work-life balance.
Digital transformation appears to have placed Kuala Lumpur in the unenviable bottom position in terms of work-life balance in recent surveys.
Surveys are plural and Kuala Lumpur is not alone. Other Asian cities also find themselves consistently in the lower half of the leagues which consider the work-life balance of employees. To avoid further attrition, particularly among younger employees who have a different perspective on work when compared to a more seasoned workforce, employers have an obligation to not only develop, but also implement, a strategy that protects employee well-being.
By well-being, we mean safeguarding employees and affording roles that permit the freedom of expression, innovation and creativity within a supportive workplace.
Today’s employees increasingly desire flexibility. The pandemic illustrated to employers and employees that the majority of work could be facilitated from home, which has given rise to phrases such as “workplace anywhere”, “remote working” and the most commonly used “working from home”.
Digital transformation has enabled employees to be fully operational and contactable remotely from the traditional workplace, which has necessitated flexible work arrangements, efficiency improvements through reductions in the commuting time of employees and cost savings, as some businesses reduce workspace and introduce hot-desking.
It has influenced workplace culture, communication and collaboration between employees, arguably in part addressing the work-life balance of employees, giving them more control over their working environment and employment conditions.
It has also provided employees with opportunities and challenges in relatively equal measure, infusing the labour market with viable alternatives to the traditional career, affording employees with continuous personal development, flexible working, a more embracing work culture, and a value-centred approach to retaining and acquiring employees.
Employers too have benefited from the transformation with enhanced measurement and feedback mechanisms, and increased agility, efficiency and knowledge-sharing in an ever-changing market. As expectations and relationships evolve between employers and employees, human capital development takes on an increasingly important role in this transformational time.
To be considered an employer of choice among a discerning labour force, flexibility, empowerment, and the embracing of diversity and emotional content, have to be infused into an adaptive workplace.
Employees should feel they are part of the business decision-making and have a degree of control over their work as well as the businesses they are in.
Acknowledging the themes that emerge from this discussion is the first step. Embracing the themes is the second step, which will not only better prepare employers for the transformational change ahead, but also set them apart as constant innovators, human capital advocates and a necessary conduit of digital transformation.
Dr Jason Turner is an associate professor and senior head at the School of Business in Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU). Holding a doctor of philosophy (PhD) from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, his areas of expertise include digital and strategic transformation and human capital, with a specific focus on graduate work readiness and digital learning space. Having moved to Malaysia in 2016, following 12 years as an academic in the United Kingdom, he has expanded his network across Europe, South America and Asia through external engagement and collaborative research projects. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.