There is little positive news that comes as a result of COVID-19. While companies are accelerating digital transformation, and online businesses are surging, the economic pain remains severe.
Yet, there is one area where companies in Singapore are starting to appreciate: workforce agility.
While automation and digitization are key trends that will shape the workforce, employers now have proof that human capital strategies matter — especially in the face of humanitarian and economic impacts caused by the pandemic.
As a result, the latest “Accelerating Workforce Agility and Resilience” survey, conducted by Aon, noted that building an agile workforce is a top priority for 84% of Human Resources (HR) and business leaders. Yet, only 38% felt that their workforce is agile.
Workforce agility is defined as quickly assigning new roles to employees to support changing business needs.
“This workforce agility gap between what employees can handle today versus what will be required of them in the near future is a major challenge for companies across industries,” said Na Boon Chong, managing director and partner for human capital in Southeast Asia at Aon.
“The main issue that businesses are facing today is reskilling the workforce in the right way. At the same time, the ease of remote working tells us that closing off borders to talent is not the solution.”
So, are Singapore companies ready? The survey showed that at the very least most are trying.
Three-quarters of respondents said they are investing in new tools and technology to improve productivity and collaboration. More than half of the respondents are also providing employees with wellbeing tools and programs.
Additionally, 46% of survey respondents said that their companies have enhanced, or are considering enhancing allowances and reimbursements to cover mobile phone, internet, and home office expenses.
These measures go beyond the current role of workforce planning in identifying roles that can be done remotely.
However, the survey noted that companies are still unsure about how their working models need to change. Part of the problem is metrics, as highlighted at a recent meeting of Aon’s Work, Travel, and Convene Coalition.
Most Singapore companies have not yet started measuring remote productivity relative to pre-pandemic times.
Enhancing remote work arrangements will create new types of productivity measurements, especially around collaboration metrics, that are more suited to an agile workforce. This was echoed by 84% of survey respondents who said that assessing employees for adaptability, collaboration, and communication skills is extremely important in the current business climate.
“Creating agile workforces across industries will include data analysis, segmentation of the workforce, and a sustained period of experimentation, until the right mix of technology and human capital can be achieved,” said Alexander Krasavin, partner and regional commercial head for human capital in APAC & MEA at Aon.
“Remote working has highlighted the massive shift in working models, bringing into sharper focus the issue of agility. Various sectors are thinking about these things differently — some are using data and questioning how to make remote work better. Others, such as technology companies, have taken a more bottom-up approach.”
Another trend that the survey highlighted is that remote work is a benefit but not a norm. It also makes talent acquisition more competitive as companies are now looking at a global pool of talents. HR leaders now need to make the correlation between remote workforces and diversity.
Attracting and retaining diverse employees ranked third in the survey among the top 10 factors needed to build and maintain an agile workforce, according to Aon’s survey. Also, 87% of respondents felt that inclusive work culture was important, ahead of factors such as identifying employees with digital skills, introducing new career paths, or developing flexible compensation programs.
To enable an inclusive work culture, 66% of survey respondents said their companies are prepared to support working parents who may not have access to childcare facilities. However, these efforts are currently tied to enhancing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).
More broadly, 33% of survey respondents indicated that their companies have changed or are actively considering changing their time-off policies in response to the pandemic. Among these companies, 28% created additional emergency paid leave policies beyond what is required by law to cover caregiving, illness, or quarantining in 2020. Another 8% made policies covering both 2020 and 2021, and 2% created permanent policies.
Image credit: iStockphoto/dorian2013