HRM Asia's Smart Workforce Summit

October 2016 saw HRM Asia’s Smart Workforce Summit take place at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre. Over 100 delegates took part in the four days of discussion, workshops, and excursions that all focused on the future of work in Asia-Pacific

Workplaces are always evolving. Where once professional office environments consisted of countless cubicles and otherwise disconnected staff each pushing a different agenda to move the whole of an organisation forward, today open plan offices with emphasis on communication and teamwork are considered key.

But what then of the future? Technology has certainly helped bring people together within their work environments over the last 20 years, but is that evolution now nearing its peak? Not in any way at all, according to futurists and technology experts.

They expect the pace of change to accelerate even further in the years ahead. Some technologies that will be a part of this are already known: virtual and augmented reality technologies are expected to change the way people work as fast as mobile phones changed how they communicated.

Other advances may not yet even be being planned yet. But they still have the potential to revolutionise the arts of production and creativity within even just a few years of their discovery.

The future is smart

That vision for the future of work was laid forth as part of HRM Asia’s inaugural Smart Workforce Summit, held in Singapore between October 18 and 21.

The first-of-its kind event featured a wide array of speakers, as well as some hands-on, practical demonstrations of real and next world innovations.

Among the lineup, for example, was “Edgar”. This avatar robot was developed by Nanyang Technological University’s Institute for Media Innovation. It is able to project the gestures of its human user, who is able to control him from anywhere in the world. The user’s face and expressions, and even upper body movements, are mirrored by Edgar in real time.

Edgar was on hand through the first day of the Smart Workforce Congress, held at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre. He gave delegates a first-hand experience of the kinds of innovation that HR professionals will need to take into account in the workforce of the future.

Coming HR challenges

A wide range of human speakers also shared their insights over the first two days of the Congress. They included futurist and leadership expert Rick Von Feldt, human development consultant and senior Advisor on Asia to the European Foundation of Management Development Bob Aubrey, and Twitter’s Regional HR Business Partner for Asia-Pacific Bala Subramaniam.

Together, they painted a vision of the future environment of work as a very different and more challenging place, but also one of opportunities for innovations and human development. In particular, each of the experts reminded the HR delegates presents that it would be up to them and their teams to set an example of agility and responsiveness to the rest of their organisations.

Among the challenges discussed and dissected were:

  • The automation and precision technology that could replace some human jobs, and the impacts that may have on the wider workforce;


  • The technology and innovations (such as Edger the robot) set to improve the way people work;


  • The importance of soft skills for human workers, and the best ways to develop these;


  • How new HR technologies will help to drive smarter workforces;


  • The importance of the Agile Model of HR, and how it builds HR teams that are adaptive to change;


  • The people and leadership skills that will be needed to bring change and transformation to organisations;


  • What employees will be expecting in this new world of work, and how to engage and connect with them

On site technology

But it wasn’t just run of the mill presentations that delegates to the Smart Workforce Summit were able to experience. An event based on technology and future could not be comprehensive without a significant element of interactivity to ensure a holistic learning experience for participants.

With this in mind, the programme also featured a range of interactive workshops on the basics of change management and HR transformation – two key tasks that will keep HR teams at the forefront of strategy over the coming decade.

The Summit also hosted a dedicated Exposition and Demonstration lounge, featuring the latest HR tools and software on the market. Several technology start-ups were also on hand to demonstrate their still yet-to-be-released technology.

Training and excursions

Around 20 Smart Workforce delegates also attended a full-day training seminar on gamification strategies. This exclusive Masterclass, held on October 20, focused on one of the most celebrated, tools to enhance and inspire learning and development in workforces of all levels and specialisations.

Gamification strategies have helped to revolutionise training programmes in a wide range of companies, giving learners an added incentive (to improve against their friends and colleagues) to take part and engage with internal development courses. Masterclass participants were presented with both the theory and the modern practice of gamification as it has been used in a wide range of employing organisations around the world.

The final day of the Smart Workforce Summit saw delegates hit the road, with guided visits to some of Singapore’s most technology-engaged workplaces. The Company Site Tours programme shared the inside HR story of organisations such as DBS Bank (see: right), Dell, Grain, and the Singapore Sports Hub.

A futurist’s HR vision

HR Futurist and Business Coach Rick Von Feldt (pictured above) conducted a mini-workshop for Smart Workforce Summit 2016 delegates, sharing how HR is being disrupted through technology and “disruptive unbundling”. He explained five future HR trends that will transcend all organisations globally:

  • HR will need to have “strategic foresight” as a critical skill, and build experience in leading teams through future trend and patterns sessions. HR needs to help organisations create priority matrixes on what to do first;


  • HR will focus much less on diversity, and much more on inclusion. The goal will be for organisations to help managers and leaders allow everyone to bring their best selves to work;


  • Virtual and augmented reality will change the way we work as fast as mobile phones have changed how we communicate. Experiencing and experimenting with augmented and virtual realities will be an important skill for HR;


  • Organisations will divide their employees into demographic “archetypes”, each with its own set of needs, motivations and ways in which they work. It is no longer enough to have a homogeneous workplace;


  • Cognitive technologies (such as artificial intelligence, predictive data, and machine learning) will bring in robust predictive data and recommendations. HR departments will also need to have a data scientist on their teams.



Ergonomics of a collaborative workplace

As part of the inaugural Smart Workforce Summit, delegates visited DBS’ offices at the Marina Bay Financial Centre, where they saw first-hand how the Singapore bank’s newly-revamped work spaces help to fuel employees’ creativity and boost productivity.

People today want “work spaces” more than “work stations”, says Vanessa Lin, Assistant Vice President of Internal Communications and Marketing, DBS Corporate Real Estate Strategy and Administration.

DBS’ level 15 office, which it has dubbed “JoySpace”, is a case in point.

JoySpace breaks away from DBS’ old office set-up of neatly arranged desks separated by dividers.

Instead, two massive, long desks shaped after the letters “J” and “S” have been placed right in the middle of the space, along with greenery cleverly located in strategic corners for a change in aesthetics.

There are also movable desk-chair pods (school-style chairs fitted with desk surfaces), breakout rooms for more conducive discussions, window booth seats overlooking the Marina Bay, as well as other unconventional work areas.

Employees can sit anywhere they please and the mobile pods in particular are extremely popular.  As one employee says, they allow users to travel around the office freely without having to get off their seats!

DBS designed JoySpace with the aim of facilitating greater interaction and flexibility, a goal Lin says has been achieved and surpassed. For example, employees are now able to communicate freely without barriers and engage in spontaneous discussions without needing to set aside separate, cumbersome meeting times.

The Smart Workforce Summit company tour programme, held on October 23, also brought the 32 participating delegates to the digitally-focused premises of computer hardware developer Dell, integrated food service provider Grain, and the Singapore Sports Hub.


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Sandeep Aggarwal, Chief Financial Officer of Aon-Hewitt Asia-Pacific, shares his thoughts on the Workday finance and HR analytics platform. He says the cloud-based system is intuitive and easy-to-use, but still provides powerful insights across the functions.

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