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Disruption or destruction: Technology in the workplace

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In this special feature, we identify how Emergenetics Asia Pacific and Feinmetall Singapore are adapting to new technologies, be it throughout the employee life cycle or to save valuable man hours.

In a recent interview with Human Resources, IBM Singapore’s managing partner for global business services, Arun Biswas, pointed out three must-haves for any large-scale HR transformation. First is user-centricity, given that technology is a powerful enabler of transformation and often a catalyst. Agility is next, wherein he recommends organisations to “start fast, fail fast and learn fast”, affirming that the days of large multi-year transformation programmes are long gone.

Finally, be collaborative, pointing out the need to work with various stakeholders. His words are timely, given just how rapidly organisations are being forced to adapt to new technologies. In this feature, in collaboration with Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), we uncover two organisations who are doing so successfully.

Emergenetics Asia Pacific: Holistically digitising employee processes

Consulting firm Emergenetics Asia Pacific has been a long-time adopter of technology. The Tripartite Standards’ adopter firmly believes that holistically creating a digital workplace with a focus on its employees is crucial for it to be effective.

As such, technology has been implemented in various work tasks such as an online psychometric system called ESP (Emergenetics Selection Programme) to reduce biases during the interview process; an app called Emergenetics+ for employee development and promoting collaboration; EngageRocket as a pulse survey tool to measure engagement; and platforms such as Slack, Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat, Kakao, Line and Facebook messenger to facilitate communication.

Sharing his honest take on this experience is Terence Quek, chief executive officer of Emergenetics Asia Pacific: “Our experience with implementing technology depends on how well the technology has been designed (such as user interfaces), whether it met our expectations, and also on how ready the team is in using it.”

Knowing that for every new technology there will be challenges in the implementation, the Emergenetics Asia Pacific team first studies it, pilots it, learns from the initial implementation, gets feedback from the team members testing it, evaluates the technology, then decides if it will be rolled out throughout the organisation. “Through taking a WEapproach, that is, a holistic approach that looks at things through various perspectives, we aim to minimise challenges and make transitions smoother,” Quek clarifies.

One of the challenges could be anxiety among those who say that technology is taking away their jobs. Quek believes that in most cases, people may find that with technology taking care of the mundane or repetitive work, human employees can focus on higher value work. As a result, he advocates for continually upgrading our skills and developing ourselves in terms of skills and mindsets.

Among a significant demographic to look out for is the mature workforce, for whom he says: “We communicate the need for the technology, listen to concerns expressed, and co-create a plan to roll out the technology, dedicate time and resources for training the use of the technology and monitor the progress of transitioning to the new technology. It boils down to taking a respectful and holistic approach and communicating early and intentionally.”

As a business head, it is interesting that Quek and his management team do not measure the results of every technology implemented. “Instead, we look at qualitative feedback from the team members to determine how useful or successful a technology roll-out is. If it continues to add value to our work, we keep it,” he explains.

This value addition, from the business point-of-view, refers to faster and more efficient communication among team members, and with its clients, opportunities for the team to share innovative ideas and improve the customer experience, and increase the agility and flexibility of the team, accelerating the time-to-market of solutions. For employees, the technology adopted complements Emergenetics Asia Pacific’s work-life initiatives, for example, using a shared calendar also allows employees to be aware of each other’s schedule, which helps to facilitate the adoption of telecommuting.

Looking ahead, Emergenetics Asia Pacific is developing a knowledge management system (KMS) which enables the team to house information that will aid employees from their onboarding to training to their day-to-day work so that they can, in turn, provide better solutions and services to clients. “We envision the KMS to be constantly fed with new information through collaboration with the firm’s various stakeholders.”

Feinmetall Singapore: Regaining valuable man hours by going mobile

A more recent adopter of holistic workplace technology is German developer and producer of contact solutions, Feinmetall Singapore. The Tripartite Standards’ adopter has recently invested in a mobile HR app called “Unit4 HRMS Mobile Application”, which is being used by all staff. This app has simplified the process in several ways, for example, staff can take photos of their receipts instead of going back to the office to scan and upload them for claims approval. Similarly, supervisors are now able to get a better overview on staff movement.

So far, the experience has been positive. Lim Li Na, senior executive of learning and development at Feinmetall Singapore, says: “We have received feedback from staff that the app is useful and increases productivity as employees can log-in immediately to apply for necessary leave and benefits instead of using a computer to do so.”

However, the roll out hasn’t been without its challenges. In this case, a minor issue was faced when some staff were unable to find the app in their Android phones, at which point the vendor jumped in to help resolve the situation. Additionally, despite the app’s intuitive interface, and step-by-step user guide, another challenge was some of the production staff, for example, operators, not understanding English. Thus, the supervisors took the lead on helping to translate the necessary content and show the operators how to better use the app.

Feinmetall Singapore has also been watchful for its two key demographics, working parents and older workers.

Laptops and a VPN network are provided for staff who need to work from home, thus empowering them to remain productive. For the mature workforce, they are briefed on the importance of leveraging such technology and then the changes are implemented in phases to help them gradually adapt before the full implementation takes place.

Through all of this, Li Na confirms that management needs to lead the way so employees are aligned with the company’s goal of embracing and leveraging the benefits of a digital workplace.

“Technology is here to stay, and we should harness it to reduce unnecessary man hours in performing routine activities as well as upskilling ourselves so that we can create more value in the organisation,” she adds.

Her vision of 2025? “Artificial intelligence will be commonly used to analyse staff patterns. For instance, the usage of functions in web platforms or apps to customise the settings for individual employees.” She also heralds the paperless wave of documentation and processes, with more information being stored via cloud-based platforms, allowing easy access, retrieval and archiving of such information in the future.


Visit worklifeworks.sg to find out how to implement work-life programmes and tafep.sg/tripartite-standards to learn more about the Tripartite Standards.

Note: Jointly developed by the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation, the Tripartite Standards is an initiative to help employers with good practices distinguish themselves.

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