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Virtual and flexible work environments on the rise: KPMG 

The use of technology and talent retention are other top HR priorities

27 November 2012
Managing an increasingly virtual or flexible workforce may become one of the top priorities for human resource (HR) functions over the next three years. This is according to the Singapore findings in a new global study commissioned by KPMG, titled Rethinking Human Resources in a Changing World.

Almost one-third (or 30 percent) of senior executives polled in Singapore said that supervising such a workforce will become a primary focus over the next three years. This is a three-fold increase over the 11 percent who believe this to be the case between 2010 and 2012.

The same trend can be observed in the Asia-Pacific region. While 18 percent of respondents in the region feel that their company’s HR function focused most on managing more flexible or virtual staff over the past two years, almost twice or 30 percent said that this will become the key concern in the coming three years.

Globally, 20 percent of respondents said that HR functions will see managing more flexible or virtual employees as a key focus over the next three years, five percent up from the 15 percent who said the same for the previous three years.

Said Ms Miranda Lee, Director of People and Change Management at KPMG in Singapore: “Business leaders are accepting that we operate in a global, borderless workplace and there is a wide diversity of talents with a plethora of work arrangements. For instance, they could be working on a temporary, contractual or part-time basis.

“The Asia-Pacific region, in particular, is seeing the most rapidly changing working environments and the most evident war for talent. With more companies, including those in Singapore, looking outward for expansion, HR functions must think about how to manage an increasingly mobile and flexible workforce.”

Globalisation and new ways of working
Indeed, globalisation has a strong effect on today’s workforce. Some 71 percent of survey respondents worldwide believe that working across borders has increased over the past three years. More than half of companies polled also said that international reporting lines and talent flows have become more common.

Other survey findings support the assertion that companies all over the world are embracing newer, more virtual and flexible ways of working.

For example,
  • In Asia-Pacific, 66 percent of respondents saw an increase in videoconferencing and the hiring of temporary or contract workers; more than 70 percent of the respondents in Singapore experienced similar increases.

  • About 66 percent of Singapore respondents said that flexi-time arrangements such as telecommuting and alternatives to physical office premises such as hot-desking have become more common.

The role of technology in employee engagement
Technology and social media will also play a key role in allowing the HR function to connect with employees.

Said Ms Lee: “Social media is increasing in prominence as a networking tool. We see our clients – both multinational companies and small-medium enterprises – using social media to better reach out to their staff and enhance their branding to current and potential employees.

In addition, technology gives HR the capacity to carry out data analytics. About a third of global respondents said that data analytics will be the focus for planned HR technology investment in the next three years.

Likewise, technology has also grown in significance for the HR function in Singapore. More than one-third of respondents in Singapore also see similar increases in the use of data analytics for business intelligence and to identify risk, using social networking sites to reach alumni and delivering business applications via cloud-based technologies.

Said Ms Lee: “It is now common to see workers from different generations and countries working within the same workplace. For companies managing diverse workforces, there is a need to understand specific nuances from each age, social and cultural group.

“If properly implemented, analytics will provide a more robust understanding of employee-related needs and help to identify future talent gaps. This will put HR in a position to anticipate and respond to future business requirements; a game-changer for any business.”

Evolving role of HR
Singapore respondents also feel that the HR function will undergo some fundamental changes. For example, some 70 percent of them believe that HR will become largely an outsourced function and about 67 percent think that the function will shrink. Close to 90 percent of local respondents feel that the HR function will become more globalised, managed centrally, and with more uniform policies across geographies.

Commenting on these findings, Ms Lee said: “In this new landscape, HR professionals will have more opportunities to move beyond administration to higher-value-added activities.

“The business landscape is now different. Gen Y workers, also known as Linksters in the marketplace require a new approach. It is high time for the HR function to play a leadership role in this relentless quest for talent.”

Notes to editors

About Rethinking Human Resources in a Changing World

Between May and June 2012, the Economist Intelligence Unit, commissioned by KPMG,conducted a global study of 418 executives. About 37 percent of respondents identified themselves as C-level executives while the remaining respondents are in management or senior vice-president positions. More than half of the respondents or 58 percent primarily serve the HR function. The rest of them represent a wide range of other functions.

A wide range of industries – healthcare, financial services and Information Technology among others – are represented in this survey. 53 percent of companies surveyed boast more than 10,000 employees, 22 percent have over 50,000 and the remaining 47 percent have between 1,000 and 10,000 employees.

Some 32 percent of respondents are based in Asia-Pacific. About 30 percent are from Europe, 28 percent from North America while 10 percent hail from Latin America. The five countries with the highest response rates are the United States of America with 90 respondents, India (78 respondents), the United Kingdom (54respondents), Brazil (42 respondents) and Singapore with 27 respondents.