Article: Technology is key to thrive in the new normal of work: Global Head of HR, Bank of Singapore

Strategic HR

Technology is key to thrive in the new normal of work: Global Head of HR, Bank of Singapore

These are indeed challenging and uncertain times. Our roles and new working arrangements would be different and organizations and employees need to effectively adjust and pivot towards this 'new normal', says Jeffrey Chiam, Global Head of Human Resources, Bank of Singapore, in an interaction with People Matters.
Technology is key to thrive in the new normal of work: Global Head of HR, Bank of Singapore

Jeff has more than 20 years of HR experience in global financial institutions, of which about 10 years are senior HR appointments in the private banking business. Jeff was previously Regional Human Resources Manager of ING Private Bank and subsequently Head Human Resources Asia for Bank Julius Baer. Prior to joining Bank of Singapore, he was Managing Director, Organization, and People with Temasek Holdings responsible for employees in Singapore and international offices in China, India, U.S. and U.K.

Jeff holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree from Monash University, Australia on a Colombo Plan scholarship as well as a postgraduate Diploma in Education from the Institute of Education, Singapore.

What measures are you taking at Bank of Singapore to keep your employees safe along with keeping the business continuity plan intact? What are your top challenges?

The health and well-being of our employees are of paramount importance to us.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in February, we have put in place preventative measures at all our offices globally while ensuring business continuity across our network. Face masks were distributed to all employees, and hand sanitizers were placed in offices. Cleaning regimes in common areas such as the branch lobbies, lifts, corridors, and toilets were also stepped up. Staggered work hours and safe-distancing within the office premises were implemented as well. Similarly, split organizational operations and work from home arrangements have been implemented for the majority of employees. Employees whom we deem to be vulnerable  - those who are pregnant or have pre-existing health conditions – are amongst this group.

Indeed, this has been a trying time for all of us. Those working from home have had to juggle office work online and Skype meetings with clients and colleagues, and getting things done without the usual access to supporting resources. This is on top of taking care of vulnerable family members at home. My top challenges are ensuring that our employees remain engaged in a new working environment where face-to-face interactions are absent and for our managers to understand what their team members are going through without the benefit of being physically present. Constant communication on work and social level is key. We have encouraged and organized a number of virtual initiatives to maintain our closeness as we continue to spend time apart. They include a bank-wide virtual cooking challenge and individual team bonding activities such as virtual trivia nights and fitness workouts. There are other areas of learning and development, coaching and counseling, where the human touch is especially important and we need to find ways to overcome that.

My top challenges are ensuring that our employees remain engaged in a new working environment where face-to-face interactions are absent and for our managers to understand what their team members are going through without the benefit of being physically present

What role would technology play in this new normal of work? Can you throw some light on how can organizations continue to operate effectively if employees have to work remotely for a prolonged period of time?

Technology is a critical enabler as organizations find ways to thrive in the new normal of work. From an HR perspective, organizations will need to quickly deploy technology solutions to ensure that regular processes such as candidate interviews, staff onboarding, learning, performance management, feedback, and even regular team meetings continue to meet our goals and objectives. What was done on desktops and paper must go mobile and digital. There is no turning back.

As HR leaders, it is important for us to maintain regular face-time with our team members through video conferencing to better understand them in the absence of face-to-face meetings. From visual cues, we can tell if they are engaged, motivated or stretched, and provide them with the support they need. Without that, it will be difficult for us to tell how our colleagues are really feeling, particularly in a home environment where there are blurred lines between work and family time.

Now, more than ever, employees would have to be more agile, adaptable, and would need to constantly upskill their knowledge and skills. How are you enabling and preparing your staff for the future, especially with regards to essential job skills and capacity building for the post-pandemic world?

We are actively encouraging our employees to make use of this period to pick up new and relevant skills which can make them more effective in the digital world. To facilitate this, we have enhanced our online learning and development initiatives to include, professional development, leadership, new joiner induction and product training. This has also enabled us to extend our training to overseas employees.

Additionally, our employees have full access to our suite of personal and professional development online courses on platforms such as Coursera, LinkedIn Learning and Learn@IBF programs, where they are able to attain certifications in areas such as Python programming, agile methodology and design thinking.

As the global CHRO of Bank of Singapore, what keeps you awake at night especially at a time when you don't know when the pandemic will end and businesses will start operating as normal?

These are indeed challenging and uncertain times. I constantly think about how our roles and physical working arrangements would become very different and how effectively the organization and employees can adjust and pivot towards this “new normal” everyone is talking about.  The paradigm shift will present a need to train or shift the mindsets of managers and team members alike to perform just as effectively in an environment where they are not in face-to-face contact with one another. It will also be an organizational challenge to continue to be effective with all these changes.

How can organizations scale the productivity that can come with new ways of working specifically new combinations of virtual and onsite work?

Through leveraging technology, employees will be able to access information not just from their desktops but via mobile devices as well. This enables them to do work anytime and from anywhere.

I’m pleased that we embarked early on the journey to digitize a number of our end-to-end HR processes. As such, we were ready to confront the current challenge and will overcome it in a post-COVID-19 world.

For example, our recruitment process is almost entirely digital. An AI-powered bot has been deployed to screen the CVs of prospective candidates. Employment offer letters are sent digitally to candidates’ mobile devices for their e-signatures. Many elements of the onboarding process are also automated. This includes how managers receive digital reminders of their new employees’ start dates and “welcome messages” which are pushed via email to new employees.

As organizations look to scale their use of technology, there is also a need to find a balance between digital and the human touch.

My HR team remains highly visible and proactive in communicating, engaging, and coaching to ensure that every employee is well taken care of.

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?

A fair assessment should be based on the overall productivity of an employee and the accomplishment of key performance indicators or goals set out by their managers. We should also assess them based on demonstrating core values, teamwork and collaboration, as well as learning agility. These qualities are key to a forward-looking organization. It should not be based on factors such as the duration of time spent in the office, how long he stays logged on to his workstation or how impressive his presentation deck is.

We are actively encouraging our employees to make use of this period to pick up new and relevant skills which can make them more effective in a digital world

As more organizations look at implementing curated benefit schemes to incentivize their employees, there is a need to take into consideration the different working circumstances of their employees and customize these benefits based on their specific arrangements. This is especially so with many employees working from home now. For instance, organizations that offer their employees transport allowances may want to consider replacing that with an allowance to cover increased home utility bills or to purchase equipment such as headsets. Tele-consultation can also replace physical visits to the doctor.

Every industry has accelerated its own digital transformation. Companies have quickly figured out how to serve their customers and clients remotely, and there's no going back. What implication will this have on the talent especially the demand for highly skilled remote workers?

Talent has gone global and multi-dimensional. By working remotely, one can work practically anywhere and not be bound by physical limitations of workstations and desktops, “official” working hours or geographical borders. While this means that organizations can tap into a wider pool of global talent with flexible working conditions, they will be faced with the bigger challenge of building and sustaining an identifiable corporate culture and shared values. Our HR policies must be in step with this, recognizing the diversity of the workforce and expectations of employees in the “new normal”, or we will lose our talents to companies which change and adapt better.  

Through digital transformation, employees will also need to ask themselves if their current skills are relevant for the future.

Great emphasis needs to be placed on upskilling in the digital economy, particularly when manual processes are being replaced by automation and other forms of technology.  

....From the July 2020 issue of our e-magazine....

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Topics: Strategic HR, #TheNewNormal, #ResetwithTech, #COVID-19

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