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Is your firm ready for the future of work?
- Marcus Low, head of channel and small and medium business, Dropbox (Asia-Pacific and Japan)
- Trevor Clarke, partner and research director, Tech Research Asia
- Kong Wan Sing, founder and chief executive officer, JustCo
Moderator: Jacquelyn Cheok
BOTTOM-UP innovation, automation, cloud and co-working spaces have long been tipped to be key trends that will shape the future of work. Against this backdrop, The Business Times asks three industry leaders the bigger and more important question: How can companies better prepare their employees, and how employees can equip themselves, for the future of work?
Q1 What key trends will shape the future of work?
Trevor: Automation and artificial intelligence will have a significant impact on the way everyone works. It doesn't necessarily mean we will see a future where all our jobs go to the robots, but it does mean what we do will change.
Marcus: Traditional organisational barriers will further erode as a bottom-up approach to innovation will empower employees to work when they want, where they want and how they want.
Wan Sing: Co-working is a key trend to the future of work. Co-working spaces are no longer just a workplace for startups, freelancers and techies. Today, JustCo houses enterprises and multinational corporations like Cloudflare, Mobike and Dolby, which see the value in being connected to a community of talented, energetic and like-minded individuals and businesses.
Often these are overseas companies wanting to expand into Singapore and Asian markets and see Singapore as a good launching place. Co-working gives them the quick starting point and flexibility they need at the early stage and the immediate connection to the community.
Q2 What role do you think collaboration and creativity will play in the future of work?
Trevor: Collaboration and creativity have always been important to the success of any organisation. That's not going to change going forward. Getting these two things right should be a focus for any leader. It's important to keep in mind, however, that better collaboration means better outcomes, not just more people sending more communications, having more meetings or sharing more files or data. It's the outcomes that matter.
Likewise, encouraging employees to share creative ideas without arbitrary boundaries or a fear of being criticised or even punished for thinking outside the box will often produce better results. This is especially true in a digital economy.
Marcus: Creative energy is a precious resource, which needs to be nurtured, encouraged and exercised at all levels within an organisation, big or small. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing are the key pillars upon which great ideas and businesses are built. Instead of working in silos, business can leverage technology to break down barriers - creating opportunities to not only drive efficiency and productivity but to create "collisions" of ideas - this is when creativity happens. The future of work will be a space that provides tools, workflows, and an environment that unleashes all kinds of creative energy.
Q3 How can business owners and executives best evaluate what solutions will make the most impact on their business and stay relevant in the future?
Wan Sing: Keeping abreast of the industry is key, that is why at JustCo we emphasise heavily on members' events and networking sessions. Our events focus on a wide spectrum of topics from business consultancy, corporate services to guest speaker events where the JustCo community gets to build contacts, relationships, and gain access to industry insights and resources by speaking to real industry experts. More often than not, they also get to shed light on the competitors' environment.
Trevor: Start a conversation. One of the best things that any business executive can do is to start a process of discovery to challenge their existing assumptions and ways of thinking. That requires an open conversation with a diverse range of people across the organisation and includes engaging people outside the organisation and especially those in other industries or geographies. You need to pop your own bubble of influence and thinking. Then it is a matter of setting a vision that is ambitious, yet flexible, and setting in motion your blueprint.
Regardless of which solutions you are considering for any part of this blueprint, make sure you consider all options and don't unnecessarily exclude possible providers based on any one of the common vendor rankings that are published. There are many options available that aren't always covered in these limited evaluations. We encourage setting up a process by which any company - startup or established vendor - can come in and pitch their solutions to your stakeholders and searching out newer ways of doing things.
Of course, don't underestimate the challenge of changing culture throughout. Many of the ways we have done things up to now simply don't work with contemporary business models, customer experience and product or service development.
Q4 How can companies better prepare employees, and how can employees equip themselves for the future of work?
Marcus: Embrace the bottom-up approach to innovation: allow your people to choose the tools and devices they know and love. If they love using it, they will likely be more productive and effective in their jobs. The future of work is bringing in a new era of IT within companies, whereby employees are equipped with tools of their choice while the IT department has the necessary levels of control to ensure compliance with IT policy.
Wan Sing: Having an open mind, being adaptable and understanding the next-generation psychographics are essential for any business or individual to adapt to the future of work. Companies must understand that leaders shape company culture through their behaviours, and how their employees adapt to a company's culture can shape their work performance and motivation.
Trevor: Always be learning and adapting. From a leadership perspective, you need to be looking beyond the next quarter or financial year. Provide training and advancement opportunities that match what your organisation plans to become in the long term. As early as possible, be transparent with your employees about which jobs or tasks are likely to be automated.
If you are an employee, understand that automation is coming and try to understand how it will affect you personally. Start the conversation with your leadership teams and look to how you can adapt with the changes in the market. One of the riskiest things you can do is be complacent and expect that what you do today is what you will continue to do in future.
- Dropbox is file-hosting service headquartered in San Francisco.
- Tech Research Asia is a tech research, analyst and consulting firm based in Sdyney.
- JustCo is a co-working space operator headquartered in Singapore.