Over the past decade, globalization, shifting demographics and technological advancements have accelerated the rate of how work has changed.
Economies have shifted from labour-based to knowledge-based or even service-based. Coupled with the proliferation of technology, modern workers are now able to collaborate wherever they may be, and to work in locales best suited to completing their tasks at hand.
These changes have impacted the way we shape our work spaces, as well as the skills and capabilities we need for executives, managers and ultimately businesses to be successful. At Microsoft, we describe this new era of work, characterised by increasing globalisation, technology proliferation and a connected workforce as the New World of Work.
However, it seems that Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) in Asia are not always keeping up; with employees feeling that their needs are not being met. A recent Microsoft online survey surveyed 2,600 SMB employees across 13 countries in Asia and found that only 61 out of every 100 employees felt their employers are enabling them to be productive, collaborative and innovative, whilst ensuring personal wellbeing in the changing world of work.
Conversely, in an online poll we conducted with 702 SMB business owners and decision makers in six markets in Asia, 73 out of every 100 respondents felt that they were empowered for the New World of Work. This clearly shows the gulf between how employees and employers perceive they are being equipped today.
SMBs in the Philippines contribute 65% of total employment and 35% of GDP in the country, and there is a huge opportunity for regional economies to accelerate growth by encouraging SMBs to empower employees and maximize productivity.
Progressive companies have already changed their workplace, policies and capabilities to better succeed in today’s business environment. By enabling employees to work anywhere, at any time, these companies achieve New World of Work outcomes such as improving collaboration, innovation, productivity, and employee well-being, allowing them to better serve customers and grow the business. Companies are also able to provide more flexibility to current workers and better attract and retain younger tech savvy talent.
How can SMBs empower their employees?
SMBs often find themselves operating with less resources than their larger counterparts, with employees quite often having to wear multiple hats at the same time. It is doubly important for SMB leaders to help their employees maximise their productivity and make the most of every available resource. Unlocking the New World of Work and allowing staff to be more productive, collaborative and innovative is one key way for these businesses to maintain their competitive edge and accelerate growth. To do this, they have to take a hard look at three key principles which facilitate success in the New World of Work: People, Place and Technology.
People: Building a workplace culture that supports and values flexible working is a must.
According to the study, only 46% of SMB respondents enjoyed workplace policies that supported remote working even though more than half of respondents (59%) highlighted that the ability to be able to work productively from anywhere would most benefit their organization. This is something SMBs should evaluate for change in order to encourage greater employee flexibility and collaboration. Instead of managing presence, managers must learn to manage performance instead and build employee capabilities to collaborate with others from any location.
Place: Offices should support a collaborative, dynamic workplace design, supported by policies that enable flexible work no matter where it may take place.
Many employees do not need to be in a fixed workspace and can work at client sites, at home, or in other spaces where they find themselves most productive. In fact, 83% of employees are already spending more than 20% of their time working outside offices be it at home, in a cafe or on-the-go according to the study conducted.
Microsoft and many other companies have already created offices with open collaboration spaces, and dedicated collaboration rooms and phone booths. They have eliminated offices and fixed desks for many employees; leading to improved collaboration and productivity amongst employees while also lending greater flexibility and ownership to one’s work.
Technology: The changes in People and Place must be supported by technology that helps employees collaborate and connect with colleagues and customers in a fuss free manner.
Tellingly, 20% of the study respondents did not have access to a breadth of tools in their workplace to facilitate this. Today, there are a myriad of productivity tools available that can be used to augment and enable collaborative work – Microsoft’s Office 365 is one example of an enterprise-grade tool that can enable remote working and enhance productivity.
How can SMB Leaders close the workplace gap?
Completely revamping the way your organisation functions can be a daunting task for most SMBs with limited resources. Dr. James Eyring, COO of global growth consultancy firm, Organisation Solutions, whom we worked with on the study had this advice for SMBs: “The best way to ease into the New World of Work is to start small, make key changes and then build out new policies and adopt new technologies in incremental steps.”
He elaborated, “Start by reviewing internal policies and processes and identifying gaps that are impeding ability to adapt to new work requirements. Admittedly, not all employees can work from any place at any time. However, many can. Focus on employee groups that already have flexibility in their work and make sure you empower them with the capability and technology needed to work more flexibly and productively. Lastly, challenge your thinking on other employee groups and expand your efforts to maximize flexibility and collaboration in the workplace.”
SMBs in Asia Pacific should not view the New World of Work as an obstacle, but rather as an opportunity to open new doors and grow their business – it is the SMBs who are open to change that stand to gain the most.
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The Microsoft Asia New World of Work SMB Study
The Microsoft Asia New World of Work SMB Study was conducted in September 2015 with 2,600 respondents working in small and medium businesses with less than 250 employees in 13 Asia markets including Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, China, India, Korea and Vietnam.
Microsoft worked with Organisation Solutions, a global consultancy helping companies solve the people and organization challenges of growth, to design the study and gain insights from the data.
 Online poll conducted between November – December 2015 in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam