APAC: investing in the new workplace culture

When we look back at the past two years, the perils of attempting to predict what lies ahead are clear. Who would have anticipated what we were all about to face in January 2020? But business leaders don’t have the luxury of a ‘wait and see’ approach, particularly when it comes to the long-term challenge of attracting, retaining and developing talent within their organisations.

In our last article https://www.halcyonrecruitment.com/news/77/understanding-the-shifting-apac-employment-market.html, we shared the experiences of a number of maritime industry leaders in the Asia Pacific region, in order to better understand the longer-term impact of the pandemic on their recruitment and retention challenges. This revealed some interested patterns, with a trend for Western ex-pat employees seeking to return home, compared to Asian ex-pats who appeared more settled. This has in turn posed challenges when it comes to filling those vacancies, particularly as it becomes harder to secure employment permits for overseas candidates in some territories.

In this article, we look forward. Speaking again to industry leaders in the Asia Pacific region - predominantly in Singapore and Hong Kong – we explore the implications of these trends and the adjustments that APAC employers will need to make to their HR policies and workplace practices to stay competitive.

Reassessing location of roles

It seems clear that as some roles become harder to fill, organisations are thinking more laterally about the scope to offer greater flexibility over location. A number of those we spoke with said that they were prepared to be more flexible over where team members or particular functions will be based if the required skills could not be found locally, or for roles that involved overseas travel.

The adage that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ seems to be borne out when it comes to remote working. The experience of the past two years has helped to speed the rollout of remote working, both in terms of the technology and the workplace culture. As one respondent commented, “We have already introduced multiple remote roles worldwide in many different countries.” For many organisations, remote working has been proven to work and increasingly part of the norm.

That said, the leaders we spoke to also stressed the importance of their ‘home’, speaking of the need and the benefits of being based in such significant shipping hubs as Singapore or Hong Kong. A number emphasised the need to be close to Singapore’s significant community of ship owners; as one put it: “We still see Singapore as the key APAC location, although there is also growth in other locations in the region. We are very much driven by where the owners are.” Similarly, Hong Kong was cited for its strategic value as a shipping hub and for access to nearby markets: “Hong Kong will remain our key place. We cover mainland China, Taiwan and the local market, and no other location would be sufficient.”

There is a balance to be struck between identifying those roles and functions that can benefit from a more flexible approach to the choice of location – one respondent suggested that India is a more affordable option for some back-office functions – but without impairing the strategic importance of your presence in your primary location.

Adapting your organisation’s workplace culture

If remote working and more flexible patterns of work, including remote working, are here to stay, how does this affect an organisation’s strategy when it comes to its workplace culture? This question is front of mind for business leaders in APAC, particularly when it comes to employee wellbeing. As one respondent explained:

“Enhanced attention to employee well-being is necessary. We need to adapt to needs of employees, including working from home, if required. Employees are reprioritizing their focus to find a company with a culture they can align with.”

In a similar spirit, another respondent noted that this will be essential to attract and retain talent, arguing that team members like the flexibility of hybrid working, so employers need to adapt, not just through technology but also through a “trust culture.”

This needs to extend to all aspects of HR and workplace strategy, as was put succinctly by one leading figure: “We will need to build for flexibility and for diversity, challenging the norms and traditions, and shaping our tactics to build new talent.”

Of course, the importance of face-to-face time with colleagues and customers is not overlooked. Some of the senior executives that we spoke with discussed how they will engage with their teams in order to get the balance right between home and office working, as well as the challenge of bringing their people back together again in the workplace.

“Everyone is more used to virtual working, but it feels that a return to in person meetings, internally and with clients, will be resumed as soon as feasible. This helps with retention as new team members need to be immersed in our ethos and our ways of working, and building relationships with clients. Engagement strategies are going to be the most important, again internally and with clients.”

One Hong Kong-based executive made it clear that they expect hybrid working to remain a fixture of the maritime sector, but also flagged the need to consider the cultural and developmental needs of the team: “We expect the balance to remain, with flexible working locations, whether that is home, office or hybrid. Culture plays an important part. We are an expert-based industry, so flexible working and team working are vital. Less experienced team members need mentors, but this doesn’t need to be every day. It can be done remotely.”

Interestingly, one respondent also argued that a ‘return to normal’ in working culture would also be an important signal to the market and that small steps such as in-person meetings and even shaking hands would help to build confidence in the market.

The pandemic taught us all about the values of resilience and agility; having the foresight to prepare for what lies around the corner the dexterity to adapt to the unexpected. It would be a brave move to predict what lies ahead in 2022, but as APAC organisations adapt to the changing expectations of their employees and the needs of their customers, it seems clear that a fresh look at all aspects of recruitment, retention, employee support and workplace culture is a good starting point.

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