With the shift to hybrid work here to stay, CIOs are building out new strategies designed to convert employee flexibility into organisational efficiency in Singapore.

Such strategies remain anchored around overcoming key business challenges linked to modernised technology infrastructure and data security, viewed as mission-critical in creating enhanced hybrid work frameworks.

In response, CIOs are blending boardroom and employee demands to maximise the potential of hybrid work through a commitment to evolving business and technology requirements.

“We believe that hybrid work arrangements are not the future, it is now,” observed Lindsay Brown, Vice President and General Manager of Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) at GoTo.

While such an approach may have been created out of necessity during the height of the pandemic, Brown said new research suggests hybrid is now the default form of work in Singapore.

“The pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote and hybrid working practices, as well as changed how IT enables and supports the workforce,” he recalled.

“Many enterprises found themselves unprepared without a solid work-from-home plan, forcing them to scramble to ‘just get it done’ and even to neglect security protocols to maintain some semblance of business continuity.”

Despite this transition triggering the use of “stop gap measures”, opportunities are now emerging for CIOs to assume a leadership role in rebuilding operations and rethinking organisational structure – one that is built on trust and flexibility.

“This will ultimately lead to more success for organisations and career fulfilment for employees,” Brown advised.

Assessing new hybrid work priorities

When the pandemic hit, businesses had to adapt to remote work seemingly overnight as a matter of survival. With no company immune to the impact of COVID-19, GoTo transitioned to a remote-centric organisation, which differs from being remote-friendly.

“We define remote-centric as remote work being part of the core ‘design’ of the company where the workforce is empowered to work remotely,” Brown said. “As a remote-centric company we were able to test and learn what works for us and listen to employee feedback.”

As part of this transition, Brown and his team cultivated a culture that “nurtured and prioritised” working outside of the traditional office environment and work hours, aligned to the priorities of teams distributed throughout different time zones and geographies.

According to Frost & Sullivan findings – research commissioned and produced in partnership with GoTo – nearly half (44%) of respondents operating on a work-from-office model reported significantly higher turnover in 2021 than in 2020, compared to 22% of hybrid work organisations who reported a higher turnover.

“Businesses that listen to and accommodate the variety of different demands from candidates, contributing to a personalised experience will have the winning element in attracting staff,” Brown added. “This becomes significantly more important when aiming to fill the role of a scarce candidate pool, such as the technology sector.”

By embracing a remote-centric approach, Brown said GoTo was able to lead from the front and take into consideration employee feedback, empowering individuals and providing a workplace that suited all different work personas in the process.

“We’ve learned a lot about the employee experience during this time, and how we can continue to engage individuals and teams, regardless of their work personas and preferences when it comes to flexible working,” he said.

“We communicated with our employees, to reaffirm their purpose and value on the team, and built trust amongst each other to establish the confidence in understanding everyone else’s roles too.”

Despite the benefits, Brown acknowledged that one of the biggest concerns for many remote workers is missing out on the social benefits of the office – hence the need to promote a strong sense of community irrespective of employee location or arrangement.

“We do this through a program called ‘The Community’,” he explained. “Each community has a leader and team to sponsor local events, testing new ways of meeting in person as well as creating ‘virtual water cooler’ moments.

“Events range from online cooking courses and book clubs to happy hours, movie nights and comedy shows, as well as more purposeful get-togethers such as town halls, offsite meetings, and team-building occasions.”

For Brown, strong communication is key – regardless of whether an organisation is working remotely or adopting a hybrid model.

“As long as communication is present and facilitated by versatile, user-friendly technology then companies can benefit from remote or hybrid work,” he added.

Overcoming post-pandemic challenges

When executed effectively, hybrid work can provide businesses with an array of advantages, opening the door to “boundary-less collaboration” in Singapore.

With offices no longer viewed as a mission-critical necessity, employees can still be productive and connected while working remotely, in addition to boosting wellbeing and helping individuals achieve a healthier work life balance.

But such success comes with a caveat for CIOs.

“If not utilised well by businesses, hybrid working can have an adverse effect on employee wellbeing,” cautioned Yvette McEnearney, Director of Channel across APJ at GoTo. “Without the right collaboration solutions and business initiatives, employees can feel disconnected, and always being close to workstations can see a slanted work life balance as workloads increase.

“If a business’ technology stack is sub-par, then they will be under-prepared against cyber attacks, which increased exponentially with the growth of hybrid work.”

In assessing the roadblocks preventing CIOs and businesses from implementing effective hybrid work strategies in Singapore, McEnearney acknowledged the importance of prioritising company culture and employee wellbeing.

“A potential decline in company culture is possible,” she outlined. “A remote-centric organisation creates more equality in a workforce.”

“However remote workers could face several disadvantages including missing critical information after a virtual meeting has ended or being left out of the company culture by missing those ‘water cooler’ moments where employees have the chance to bond with one another.”

Furthermore, potential burnout is also a key challenge facing organisations post-pandemic, McEnearney added.

“Remote workers may work longer hours and take shorter breaks than their in-office counterparts,” she said.

“They worry that because they are out of sight, their in-office colleagues may perceive them to be slacking off, so they have a tendency to overcompensate by staying late or making themselves available outside traditional work hours.”

Specific to implementing digital transformation agendas to supercharge hybrid work strategies, CIOs are struggling to manage the “overwhelming options” available in relation to productivity tools and IT management, hampered further by escalating costs and expenses.

According to research findings, 76% of IT professionals are experiencing a “large increase” in workload because of hybrid work set-ups, with 43% accepting that IT has now become “more difficult” as a result.

Delving deeper, 31% of challenges were attributed to ineffective software, spanning frequent user errors when navigating complicated interfaces to a lack of access for off-network devices.

“Customers continue to see the value in having a strong IT team and infrastructure as they manage hybrid working challenges, so it becomes only natural that budgets and workloads have increased,” McEnearney said.

“IT teams need to ensure they have invested into solutions that are tailored to securing remote working, whilst also not capsizing their already increased workload. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to move towards consolidating their IT stack.”

As outlined by Frost & Sullivan research, organisations are beginning to understand the value of IT tools that help to simplify the challenges that IT management teams face, with 33% of businesses planning to increase investment in IT help desk and management solutions.

“Consolidated IT solutions allow employees to collaborate effectively, and IT teams to better manage challenges efficiently, whilst also being cost-effective for organisations,” McEnearney explained.

“Having the right tools for the right use case allows employees to collaborate efficiently and businesses to scale accordingly.”

Citing research findings, McEnearney said that a third of businesses (34%) believe that outsourcing help desk or other IT support functions to a managed service provider (MSP) can help in an economic downturn, a number expected to rise as CIOs increase reliance on external partners and ecosystem specialisation.

“Reducing costs is no longer the key driver for using managed services,” she explained. “The priority for organisations has shifted towards improving human connectivity and experiences.”

“Depending on which MSP a company selects, they can benefit from unique expertise and dedicated support which avoids the need to address technical problems – instead they can channel efforts into more business needs. Our go-to-market strategy is partner-first in Southeast Asia and aligns with the key outsourcing priorities of CIOs in the region.”

Building best practice with technology

As innovative CIOs deploy new technologies to maximise the benefits of hybrid work, Brown advocated the benefits of embracing “communication, collaboration and integration” as foundational pillars across an organisation. The aim? To ensure employees remain productive and connected.

“As restrictions ease, employers must take into consideration the modern employee experiences to enable and empower flexible working seamlessly and securely,” he advised.

“While these tools have served as a stop-gap measure for organisations transitioning to remote work, IT consolidation in the form of tools that handle related functions in one secure application offers much-needed relief for IT teams.”

For example, Brown said employees want flexible work arrangements to become the new normal for workplaces in Singapore, cited as a “deal breaker” for talent considering whether to join or stay with an organisation.

“However, this shift towards greater flexible work arrangements will take time to fully come into play,” he added. “For this to fully be implemented in the future, there needs to be collaboration between employers, employees and the government.”

“We’re in the age of employee empowerment. We want to do our work on our own time, on our terms, and from where we work best, whether it’s on the couch, at a cafe, or even, yes, occasionally at the office. The hybrid work model is here to stay.”

In looking ahead, Brown advised CIOs to stay connected through technology, while fostering social interactions and advocating for balance – supported by regular updates and an enhanced technology portfolio.

“Organisations should aim to leverage video technology and cloud sharing to increase seamless work efforts between team members,” he documented. “Keep remote employees engaged by fostering team connections through social hours, video chats, and virtual team-building activities.”

“Also, encourage employees to set healthy boundaries around schedules, assignments, and performance expectations.”

Furthermore, Brown stressed the importance of keeping remote workers updated on projects, goals, team progress, and company news.

“Check in regularly with remote employees for both one-on-ones and team meetings so everyone has a chance to touch base and keep their finger on the pulse of the company,” he said.

“Ensure employees feel confident and empowered to do their best work no matter where they are is key to improving engagement and performance. Whether a new hire or a veteran employee, make sure remote teams have the tools and training to get the job done.”

CIO, Remote Work

The past two years have been stressful for many senior technology executives. When the pandemic first struck in early 2020, CIOs and their teams rushed to deploy technologies that would support people working remotely as governments locked down their citizens.

Now, hybrid work is here to stay as people realise that more flexible working environments, where they alternate between their offices and homes, provide a better work/life balance.

But for CIOs, this presents a number of challenges around deciding which technology infrastructure will best support these environments for years to come and importantly, how data will be effectively secured with so many people operating outside the network perimeter.

Senior tech execs gathered for a luncheon in Sydney recently to discuss the IT infrastructure challenges they have faced over the past two years as their organisations moved to hybrid work environments. The conversation was hosted by CIO Australia and sponsored by GoTo.

Lindsay Brown, vice president and general manager, Asia-Pacific and Japan at GoTo, says organisations have had to learn to adapt their work environments to function remotely. This has resulted in a substantial increase in collaboration and remote working technology.

“When this is combined with pre-existing challenges, putting the right structures and solutions in place becomes essential to maintain business success,” he says.

As an example, one of GoTo’s partners, sporting club Sydney FC, was moving out of an old stadium when the pandemic hit and needed a platform that allowed the club to manage its call centre to support members and partners regardless of their location or operation, he says.

At the start of the pandemic, says Brown, many customers had to rely on technology and tools to stay connected with their clients and maintain the same levels of service they provided pre-pandemic.

“The transition had to be quick to mitigate loss, which led to a lot of businesses implementing a variety of tools without properly evaluating all solutions in the market.

“This created many challenges for customers as the short-term gain many saw in implementing quick solutions eventually created more problems with operations,” he says.

A recent survey published by GoTo and Frost and Sullivan found that 31 per cent of challenges related to flexible work were attributed to software that isn’t always up to the job or necessarily the right fit.

GoTo’s customers reported challenges such as user errors, problems with navigating complicated interfaces, as well as not being able to access ‘off-network’ devices.

“Underperforming technology not only made life difficult for employees of any business, but if they are not able to maximise their productivity using it, the business is also likely to be losing out on revenue,” he says.

Francoise Gelbard, director, business development and strategy at HumanableCX, says that the organisation has been a cloud-based SaaS business from day one, so there was minimal impact in moving to more flexible work models.

“We have always catered to flexible working environments and highly skilled workers who are able to work autonomously, Gelbard says.

However, what is missing in hybrid models – or purely working virtually – is the ‘water cooler’ moments of organic interaction and conversation, she says.

Gelbard says that this cannot be replicated in an online environment although there is online HR and employee software that can assist in the on-boarding and induction of new hires.

“We are also developing employee engagement programs around virtual and highly personalised reward and recognition of internal net promoter scores with our clients.

“This level of investment in these virtual tools will see them remain a pivotal part of the hybrid model, which looks set to stay for a foreseeable future. To the millennial and alpha workforce of the future, this will be part of the ‘norm’ as it has been with schools and universities since 2020,” she says.

Fei Teng, chief technology officer at MediRecords, says the software organisation has moved to a flexible work environment where staff are using a mix of personal and corporate devices for different purposes.

“We are holding more recorded meetings that can be watched later by people who were absent, conducting more online social activities, and mental health is also being discussed more often,” says Teng.

Teng adds that there are also IT infrastructure challenges. New employees can be onboarded without proper security awareness training, and a business continuity plan can depend on a personal home set up, he says.

Auditing company policies that depend on individual behaviours such as a ‘clean desk policy’, and giving the IT team only a few days to support people working remotely across the entire organisation have also been challenging, he adds.

Hybrid work’s real impact

Hybrid working, when done effectively, has an array of advantages, says Elissa Pietrasanta, sales manager, A/NZ and ASEAN at GoTo.

“It opens the door to boundaryless collaboration. Offices are no longer a necessity, which means employees can still be productive and connected while working remotely, enabling more successful business practice,” says Pietrasanta.

Argubly, and more importantly, hybrid work creates many advantages for employee wellbeing. In an age of employee empowerment, creating a workplace that allows employees to work more flexibly is imperative, she says.

“When executed correctly, a hybrid working environment allows employees to achieve a healthier work-life balance.”

However, if not utlised well by businesses, hybrid working can have an adverse effect on employee wellbeing. Without the right collaboration solutions and business initiatives, employees can feel disconnected, and always being close to workstations can result in a slanted work-life balance as workloads increase, she says.

“Furthermore, if a business’s technology stack is subpar, then they will be underprepared against the likes of cyber-attacks, which grew exponentially with the growth of hybrid work.”

GoTo’s Brown adds that busineses that show a willingness to adapt to new demands and ways of working will be attractive to employees. The mood has shifted regarding the types of workplaces people want to operate in, and businesses that embrace hybrid working will see great success in retaining and attracting staff, he says.

“Our survey found that nearly half (44 per cent) of respondents operating on a work-from-office model reported significantly higher turnover in 2021 than in 2020, compared to only 22 per cent of hybrid work organisations that reported a higher turnover,” he says.

Improving your cyber security posture

Meanwhile, organisations should look closely at their cyber security postures as the economy enters a new phase of work. Cyber threats are continuing to grow with 80 per cent of organisations hit by ransomware last year.

HumanableCX’s Gelbard says her organisation has had ISO27001 certification since 2016 when it started working with banks, insurers and other financial services companies.

“We are handling customer data and connecting our APIs to their CRMs etc, so we have always had to meet the highest standards and very strict information security compliance requirements and protocols around user access and authentication, encryption, and workforce security awareness training.

“We were well prepared in advance,” she says.

GoTo’s Brown says cybersecurity can be daunting and he suggests that businesses should implement solutions that secure all remote working endpoints and quickly respond to and mitigate issues. Organisations also need a platform that is easy to use and simplifies cybersecurity operations such as zero trust and multi-factor authentication.

“Businesses shoulder a heavy burden when expected to appropriately protect their employees from a cybersecurity standpoint and third-party support can be incredibly valuable, especially for SMBs. It is much safer to ask for help, than incorrectly prepare your business,” he says.

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