Special Feature
Smarter Working: The New Competitive Advantage
Smarter Working: The New Competitive Advantage

Today, powerful market forces are converging to transform the modern office. Rising workforce mobility, advances in communication technology and greater emphasis on collaboration are just three of many elements that are changing our ways of working. 

“Smarter Working” is a workplace transformation approach that leverages these forces to create a more enlightened work environment that literally breaks down the physical barriers of “the office” as we know it. To stay ahead of the curve and gain a competitive advantage, organizations need to rethink even their most ingrained processes and workplace norms. 

Where to Start? Defining Your Purpose
To engage in this workplace transformation, organizations must first assess their internal state and define the key drivers for their initiative to shape their purpose and strategy.  

It is important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each organization should define its own Smarter Working strategy, to ensure that it aligns with the company’s own mission and values. When framing purpose and strategy, organisations should involve their end-users – the staff affected by the workplace changes – to help identify relevant solutions that meet their expectations and needs.  

Also critical to success is leading the change from the top. Companies should also foster an environment that supports the transformation by adopting and reinforcing the cultural changes that the transformation may engender. 

As Peter Dingle, Head of Innovation at HSBC Retail Banking and Wealth management, said, it is important to “fall in love with your customers’ problem, don’t fall in love with your solution.” Ensuring that your approach is the right one for your own business and requirements will lead to a meaningful and purpose-driven transformation. 

Key Challenges and Pitfalls to Avoid
With change, often comes resistance. When undergoing a workplace transformation, staff will likely be reluctant to adopt any modifications that disrupt their conventional way of working. This is where leaders play a key role and can make or break the experience for their staff. 

Senior leaders must support this transformation by being vocal champions of the initiative and wholeheartedly embracing behavioural change themselves. Development programs can also complement the transformation by equipping staff with the appropriate skills to embrace change and feel confident in the face of uncertainty.  

While Smarter Working inherently promotes better work-life balance, other aspects of modern life can complicate matters. Real-time technologies such as WhatsApp and WeChat make it harder for employees to disconnect from work. Today, it is easier for managers to contact staff at any time, including during holidays and after working hours. 

To mitigate the risk of workplace creep, Truddy Cheung, Head of Workplace Strategy at Colliers International, said that management is responsible for setting standards and expectations. They “should lead by example” in this area as well as others, by promoting and embodying the culture and workplace strategy the company is seeking to achieve. 

Organizational culture aside, many countries regulate working hours by law. With the rise of flexible work arrangements and other Smarter Working initiatives, we can expect legislation to be revised and tailored to cater to these new workplace needs. 

Hong Kong, known globally for its culture of long working hours, set up a Standard Working Hours Committee in 2013 to address this issue and to formulate an appropriate working-hours policy. However, while the committee submitted a report with recommendations before its term expired in January 2017, there have been no significant changes to the law regarding working hours, and many related labour issues remain unresolved.

With progressing technology and changing attitudes to work-life balance and flexibility, it is hardly surprising that Smarter Working initiatives are expected to continue evolving over the next year and beyond. 

As the world of work evolves, organizations need to be willing to embrace these changes and engage in the transformation so they are able to remain competitive and stay ahead of the curve. 

Laura Hoyos Salazar, Senior Consultant, and Julie Lamy, HR and Transformation Practice Lead, at Sia Partners