Tanya Heng is Vice President Human Resources for Asia Pacific at IBM where she is focused on strengthening and accelerating strategies for leadership development, talent management, and employee engagement. Tanya has close to 20 years of Human Resources experience from a variety of senior and international leadership positions at IBM. She has a successful track record of developing and implementing human resources strategies aligned to business priorities.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
What are you most concerned about as an HR leader as you plan to bring employees back to the office?
The world is looking very different amid the pandemic. As we moved into unchartered territories, there are certainly different challenges faced by HR professionals, and one of them is workforce re-entry in a different normal.
At this moment, there are a lot of things which are on top of employees’ mind/ their top concerns (based on IBM survey as well as research done by top HR executives):
- 69% employees say that this is the most stressful time of their career
- 38% say that their employer has helped them learn the skills they need to work in this new way of working
- Over 50% said they want a clear crisis communication protocol in place
- About 40% said they want their employers to provide employee opt-in remote work options when everything returns to normal
We feel that there are 4 HR re-entry imperatives that employers and HR professionals need to focus on:
- Workforce well-being: The health, safety, and well-being of employees should be the top priority of every employers and HR professionals. We have to admit that this crisis is personal and experiential, thus HR professionals need to remind business leaders that our people are dealing with intense personal, family, health and mental well-being issues. And given the flexibility, trust and the right amount of support, employees will be resilient and will be able to adapt. HR professionals need to introduce empathy and understanding during this challenging period. Employees will remember how you treat them during a stressful time and how you show understanding and concerns. All in all, Covid-19 is a critical moment when your company culture is revealed. As an example, leaders in IBM have introduced IBM Work from Home Pledge - a way to build trust, flexibility and resilience into our workforce. Rather than applying a set of defined standard mandates into our workforce who have shifted working from home, it is critical for us to empower our employees, giving them the space and freedom to adapt and to learn what is the best working style for them.
- Working practices: HR professionals need to help organizations to reimagine how and where work get done with a key focus on redesigning and resourced differently in this new distributed or remote working model. HR leaders need to ensure managers know how to manage their team remotely, their teams can still remain productive, able to make fast decision, able to use the tools productively and able to mentor and coach teams – helping organization reimagining how works and done and how to do things differently
- Work policies: HR professionals need to rely on data to reconfigure the HR and Return to Work policies. Eventually, everyone will go back to work, but some employees may not want to. Policies on flexi working arrangement or remote working, taking into account employees mental health and family obligations needs to be in place. We might need to relook at our health and safety policies at work including social distancing practice, work scheduling/ rotation for employees. HR professionals might need to rework on the policies that cover all these. We need to adapt to a new style of communication, one that can address the known, as well as the unknown. Be honest about uncertainty and ambiguity will help instill calm among employees and keep them productive. To do this effectively, we need to rely on data to guide us, not only rely on Government updates on movement and travel, but importantly data about how our employees feel and how they want to see the future of work.
- Workforce planning: HR professionals need to help organizations reassess which critical part that HR needs to play in recovery. This is the next set of challenges by HR in helping organizations on the path towards recovery. We need to be realistic that some part of our business might not be able to return to normal. HR skills will be critical particularly in the area of workforce planning. Helping the business assess as what type of volume and scale, and roles that the company is going to need going forward. HR needs to help with resource allocation, and sure staff take responsibilities on their learning and upskilling to help better prepare them in the operating in the new environment. Using the current data, it is essential to do forecasting and remodeling.
Will the CHRO rise to the same level of prominence that the CFO did after the global financial crisis?
CHROs always have the same level of prominence with any executives even before the crisis has started.
But we see that among the many economic costs that COVID-19 has exacted, the workplace impacts have been among the most significant. The already-considerable challenges of human capital management in a typical work setting—leadership, workforce engagement, productivity, skills—have been moved into uncharted territory.
According to IBM Institute of Business Value report, the work of the CHRO has never been more important— or more difficult during this period. Sustaining communication, collaboration, capabilities and culture in a virtual operating model is now the work of HR leaders around the globe.
When companies are ready to move from crisis mode to a different normal, the return to the workplace is an inevitable hurdle to address on the way by CHRO. An IBV survey of global executives currently in the field indicates that they expect to have two-and-a-half times more remote workers two years from now than they had prior to COVID-19. Thus, the vital longer-term focus for CHROs and the C-suite is building an organization that moves the workforce past crisis-neutral status toward becoming globally resilient and more able to predict crises in the future. Talent leaders and CHROs should be developing a long-term plan spanning re-entry and remote work while we move toward a different normal.
How can we refine our assessment of employees’ work and the rewards they receive, such that it is a fair and equitable reflection of their contribution to the organization?
IBM is a high-performance company. We always have been and will always be. Our clients rely on our excellence. We must continue to embody innovation, speed, accountability and expertise to deliver top-notch results at all times.
Managers in IBM are empowered and accountable to measure and communicate the value of each team member's contribution continuously. Rewarding and investing in our strong contributors and acknowledging and encouraging them on an ongoing basis is key. Managers are encouraged to be transparent and focused on how they will review and measure achievement against these shorter-term goals. Having regular check-ins and tailoring recognition to acknowledge employee contributions under these unprecedented times. We use compensation and recognition programs to differentiate employees ensuring employees with the skills needed for the future and who contribute the most are duly rewarded. Reward and recognition can be in a number of forms. From appreciation notes, points for the purchase of goods, cash awards and may be segmented by the job roles in the company.
How can organizations scale the productivity that can come with new ways of working specifically new combinations of virtual and onsite work?
It is imperative for companies to activate their employees to effectively work and collaborate, and to scale the productivity despite working remotely and onsite, or a combination of both, to ensure business continuity.
These changing times also call for a strong HR partner. Across the globe including in this region, IBM is helping organizations lead in their efforts to empower their workforce in this time of massive change. IBM has a proven set of methods, tools and solutions to co-create a smarter workforce plan, increasing many organizations’ agility to serve customers and optimize their workforce—resulting in a new workforce model, a digital HR function, and greater cost efficiencies, under the new ways of working.
According to IBM Institute of Business Value research, the near-term measures that talent leaders and CHROs should have in place now to help their remote teams be productive and engaged.
What will the long-term impacts of our new normal be on the world of work?
The ways we work will change for the long-term, providing a range of new business and employee opportunities. To successfully operate in the new normal, it is critical for companies to focus on accelerating a smarter workforce strategy to help achieve cost reduction objectives and to enable adapting workforce planning to the ever-shifting balance of talent demand and supply against business priorities. Companies should give thought to a new digital HR function – one open to embracing the influence of automation and new ways of working.
Though we are not 100% certain on the exact future model, several things are certain:
• Our workforce model needs to allow for remote working
• Role location, whether in-office or out-of-office or even in-country or out-of-country, will be reinvented
• Processes will be automated while offices/plants will be redesigned
• The workforce model needs to be flexible enough to change through time
• The importance of employee experience and transparency will be accelerated
• There will be a focus on cost-reduction, which means automation and outsourcing
• New leadership behaviors and traits will be valued
• We have to focus on teaming and in establishing relationships remotely