More technology, and higher expectations of it; but not for remote work, because in this part of the world, most of us can't work from home or even flexibly. A greater emphasis on trust; but even as we focus on values, sustainability efforts all across the region continue to fall behind.
These are the key predictions Forrester Research recently released for the Asia Pacific region in 2022. What do they look like from the perspective of the businesses right in the middle of the changes? We asked a few business leaders to chime in.
Greater expectations of digital services
The pandemic accelerated digital adoption across the region, and it's not likely to revert. According to Forrester's analysis, Asia Pacific governments “lead the world in implementing the three pillars of a digital society: digital identity, digital currency, and data interoperability.”
Digital transformation will go human-centric as a result: Forrester predicts that in 2022, 10 percent of technology executives will invest three times as fast as their competitors, in technology to boost the creativity and innovative capacity of their workforce.
And unsurprisingly, the ubiquity of digital services will drive up expectations of digital experiences. Consumers and employees aside increasingly want their tech to not just work well, but to actively make their lives better.
Jeremy Paton, Team Engagement Solutions Lead APAC at Avaya, told People Matters that APAC organisations have spent years investing in customer experience tech, but now need to pivot their focus toward meeting employee expectations.
“There is still a critical need to elevate efforts beyond just basic hybrid working tools. Employees need to be empowered with more than just apps that keep them online; they need (and increasingly demand) tools that support and supplement their efforts, and that’s fundamental to transforming employee experiences,” he said. “We are now operating in a time of work-life integration, where the lines between the home and office have irrevocably blurred. Organisations are obliged to operate within this reality or risk losing staff to competitors who will keep them happier.”
What happened to working from anywhere?
Forrester's report found that over 60 percent of firms in the Asia Pacific are likely to bring most of their employees back to the office full-time due to region-specific pressures. Firstly, most workers in the region are in the manufacturing sector and need to be on-site to perform their job. Secondly, infrastructure remains patchy in many outlying locations, making virtual work very difficult. And thirdly, high-density living and crowded home conditions make working from home impractical – 58 percent of APAC workers say they are less productive working at home, compared with a global average of 46 percent.
Still, business leaders aren't giving up on the hybrid model. Many organisations are exploring ways of providing flexibility to the segment of the workforce that can actually utilise it. The key drivers here are potential positive impact on performance, and again, meeting employee expectations.
Nicholas Lee, Market Leader for the Asia Pacific at Philips Domestic Appliances, said: “I think we can safely say that the pre-COVID-19 concept of work has changed drastically especially for those who do not require specialised, large equipment. Hybrid working models are here to stay. While there is benefit to co-workers gathering at the coffee machine to banter and exchange ideas, and coming together for brainstorms, the pandemic has taught us that equally, people can be productive and energised by having greater control over their time.”
For the segment of the workforce that can move to the hybrid model, technology will again play a central role in organisations' work strategy, alongside shifts in business culture and employers' own expectations.
Justin Hurst, Field CTO, Nutanix APJ, told People Matters: “While there will be country – and even industry – specific variances across the APAC region, what is not in doubt is that tech will be a key enabler for all aspects of the emerging hybrid workforce. In this new world, driving employee engagement, company culture, health and wellness, flexible work, and of course employee productivity will be key areas of priority. Companies that learn how to adapt and use tech well for these purposes will have a competitive advantage when it comes to retaining and attracting talent during the ongoing ‘great migration’.”
Financial services will make trust a formal metric
The Forrester report lists public health, cybersecurity, data privacy, and sustainability as major concerns affecting customer and other stakeholder relationships today, and predicts that companies that don't take steps to establish and uphold trust will lose 10-40 percent of their customers.
On the other hand, the report also predicts that the financial services industry will lead the way in making trust a KPI, and estimates that between four and six firms in the industry will begin measuring and codifying trust next year.
It's not surprising that financial services will take the lead here, according to Nick Pollard, Managing Director of CFA Institute in the Asia Pacific, who told People Matters that trust is required for the entire industry to even function at all.
“The concept of trust is complex and multi-layered. Information, innovation, and influence are the three themes contributing to investor trust today. Trust is essential to the proper functioning of the financial system, the financial services industry, and investment firms, and, without it, financial interactions would become more inefficient, costly, or cease,” he said. “From our perspective, if you're not living your values, or if your brand doesn't stand for something, then you're going to find it much more difficult to compete as you move forward.”
What's happening with sustainability?
Forrester's research underscores the outcome of the COP26 talks – the Asia Pacific is struggling to make headway with climate change initiatives, not just at governmental levels but at business levels. Today, only 30 percent of firms are taking concrete action to reduce their waste and emissions footprint or even to make their sustainability efforts more transparent. And in 2022, the number of APAC firms that appoint a dedicated sustainability lead will be less than half of the global average.
However, the report also indicates that with customers and employees alike increasingly wanting to see tangible action rather than performative gestures, companies that do not actually fund their sustainability function and put good leadership at its head are likely to end up alienating their own customer base, and possibly their own workforce.