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Best time to unlock value of our workforce

Business leaders are hungry to empower their employees, transform their organisation in this rapidly changing work environment.

Employees in the modern workplace should be empowered with the right technology to succeed in this environment, allowing creative and collaborative work wherever they may go.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . ."

That was how Charles Dickens saw the French Revolution. But what about the revolution that is happening now: The Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Each revolution has brought its own set of challenges. But what's also clear is that these have transformed how the world worked, lived and played.

The workplace today has transformed. Employee expectations are changing amid more diverse and globally distributed teams, a rising millennial population entering the workforce and an increasingly complex threat environment.

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In fact, the "modern workplace" has already arrived. Today, employees can have unprecedented access to data that is democratised, but always secure. They enjoy flexible and mobile ways of working, using digital tools that liberate rather than constrict them. They communicate and share knowledge seamlessly - not just across a physical office, but potentially across the world in diverse and internationally distributed teams.

It is not just about the employees. Business leaders are hungry to empower their employees, transform their organisation and shape culture in this rapidly changing work environment.

In this modern workplace, business leaders use technology to harness the collective ingenuity, creativity, and critical thinking of all employees. Hierarchies and silos within organisations are being dismantled and collaborative teamwork is becoming a part of the culture.

When work becomes a thing that you do - and not just a place where you go - agile, data-driven, and customer-centric cultures take hold. Great ideas are implemented, new products and services are created, and workers become much more productive.

The principles of the modern workplace can be applied in unexpected ways and places, big and small. This shift bodes well for businesses in Singapore and around the region as they can tap relatively young, and more technically adaptive, workforces to compete in increasingly competitive global markets.

As employers of 70 per cent of the local workforce, this shift to a modern workplace needs to be an area that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore should focus on. It is, therefore, very encouraging that the SMEs Go Digital programme was launched to help these enterprises build stronger digital capabilities to seize the opportunities for growth in the digital economy. A modern workplace, and becoming a digital enterprise, can generate immense opportunities if mindsets are changed, employees empowered, technologies embraced, and data protected.

At Microsoft, we see this as the start of "the best of times" for us to leverage digital experiences and tools to unlock the value of our workforce, to help them do their jobs better by re-engaging them in their work, and transforming the workplace environment itself.

It is never just about technology. Three key pillars need to be integrated for a holistic approach to transforming a workplace: people, place and technology.

People: Manage performance, not presence

In the modern workplace, employees have the capability to work flexibly and productively; they are supported by leaders and cultures that help them succeed in this dynamic environment.

However, for many working professionals that we spoke to as part of the Microsoft Asia Workplace 2020 study, they did not believe that their organisation has invested sufficiently in culture development, and feel that their teams are too rigid and not open to new ways of working. In fact, 36 per cent of respondents in Singapore felt that face-to-face meetings are taking up what could be more productive time.

With work becoming increasingly on-demand and on-the-go, it is also important for managers to learn to lead dispersed teams effectively, and this can be done when clear key performance indicators for teams are set from the get-go. It is also important to focus evaluations on performance and outcomes. This way, employees are aware of expectations and their performance can be tracked against deliverables rather than attendance.

At Microsoft, when setting up meetings, the default is to provide a Skype for Business option for all meeting attendees - internal or external - so that it allows everyone to participate in productive discussions wherever they are.

Place: Empower collaboration and creative thinking across teams

A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers 2016 CEO Survey cited creativity as one of the key skills needed for employees today. Furthermore, CEOs have said creativity is the most challenging skill to recruit and retain in employees.

Business leaders know that in order to succeed in tomorrow's economy, where productivity will be a given, they need to solve this problem by unlocking the creativity of their employees and then infusing that ingenuity into their company's products, solutions, and business strategy.

One of the ways to drive creativity in a workforce is to empower collaboration for a team-oriented workforce, where employees feel vested in the growth and performance of the company - and this goes beyond meetings and brainstorms.

When relooking at workspaces and policies that foster collaboration and creativity, a key focus needs to be on breaking down the silos between teams. A modern workplace should enable employees to work flexibly, anywhere at any time in an office that sports a collaborative, dynamic design, coupled with policies that support flexi-work.

Technology: Democratise access to productivity and insights

Ultimately, employees in the modern workplace should be empowered with the right technology to succeed in this environment, allowing creative and collaborative work wherever they may go.

With mobile and cloud technologies being pervasive today, it is important to champion such tools to be made widely available for every employee to work flexibly and remotely. At the same time, it is important to also ensure that the company's data is secure and protected, while streamlining management across users, devices, apps and services on a simple platform.

Microsoft has been drawing on the best of our products across Office 365, Windows 10 and Enterprise Mobility and security to empower our modern workplace, and this is also what we are also making available to our customers through Microsoft 365.

Whether your organisation is a 50 year-old financial institution, a family-owned small business, or a one-month-old startup, you have available to you the tools to harness the power of this digital era. The question is now how you empower your employees and transform your organisation to seize opportunities in the digital economy.

It is the truly the best of times with the best opportunities to truly empower our people.

  • The author is Director for Small & Midmarket Solutions and Partners Group at Microsoft Singapore.