The Future of Work is Purpose-Driven

Singapore, June 12, 2019

The fourth industrial revolution is not just about the technological changes that are happening around us. It also brings in an entirely new generation that will soon dominate the workforce—the millennials and, very soon, Gen Z.

Compared to earlier generations, these digital natives are searching for very different objectives from their careers. They are direct in their demand for
meaning and purpose in their work, and they increasingly expect companies to take into account societal and environment issues through their business decisions. For instance, Grab’s mission is to ‘Drive Southeast Asia forward’, while DBS Bank wants to help people ‘Bank less, live more’.
Watching these demographic changes closely is Mr Chia Wee Boon, Chief Executive Officer of NCS. In particular, Mr Chia shared what he believes are the three main facets of an evolving work landscape: “The three changes we will observe at work are: the format of the workplace, the nature of work itself, as well as the future workforce. These three aspects are closely intertwined with each other, and we need to look at them collectively.”

The four walls of traditional offices are disappearing

Certainly one to stay ahead of the curve is Mr Chia, who sits in an open-plan office cubicle himself. “We are already seeing the explosion of co-working spaces, and in the near future, your ‘office’ may, in fact, be a park, or a holiday resort in Bali.” But Mr Chia emphasised that it is not as simple as getting rid of brick and mortar offices; offices are not going to disappear completely but gradually evolve with the times.

Central offices like the ones we are familiar with today are also going to be further enhanced using technology, with companies looking to make them “as friendly as possible”, Mr Chia said. For example, biometric technologies will soon replace identity cards for accessing office premises and passwords for IT system authentication.

“These digital tools are going to make work a lot more seamless and frictionless. The nature of work is going to change, in the sense that some processes are going to be made invisible because they will be done digitally and automatically. This will free up time and effort, allowing employees
to concentrate on more meaningful work,” he said.

Mr Chia emphasised that while every organisation is different and serves a unique purpose, broad classes of technologies can be applied similarly. For example, a government agency can use social media to reach out to citizens, while a retail brand can use it to engage with customers.

Technology is never for technology’s sake

Today, many organisations are embarking on a digital transformation journey. “The technology industry loves catchy phrases, but sometimes people are not very clear what the terms mean. ‘Digital transformation’ is one of them. If we are not careful, we can end up applying technologies just for the sake of it,” Mr Chia said.

To avoid falling into that trap, one must be clear about what the purpose of ‘digital transformation’ really is. Fundamentally, it should improve the lives of people, he said. “At the end of the day, technology has to be applied with the people in mind.”

A survey completed by consulting firm PwC revealed that non-millennials are 2.3 times more motivated to remain in the company if they are able to find purpose in their work they do. The phenomena is even more prominent in millennials, who are 5.3 times more likely to stay when they have a strong connection to their employer’s purpose.

“The leaders will have to communicate the purpose of digital transformation to employees at every level of the organisation, from management to
rank-and-file,” explained Mr Chia. “It is definitely easier said than done, but once you nail the right mindset, digital transformation will happen a
lot more easily.”

And although the workplace demographic is changing and now includes digital natives who have never known the ‘analog’ era, organisations
must be empathetic to older workers that did not grow up with such technology, Mr Chia said. “To address this group of workers, we need to recognise the thread of commonality that runs through all of us—the human aspect.”

Creating a North Star
To illustrate how purpose can drive people, Mr Chia shared about “big ticket projects”, which are referred to as North Stars in NCS. “The beauty
of these projects is that multiple smaller ‘stars’ can be borne out of one North Star.”

Mr Chia gave the example of a North Star: an automation project which began as a tiny experiment in the company’s finance department. Initially, the aim was to see if some of the work could be carried out by software robots. “The first iteration failed and it was a complete frustration for the
team. But we persevered and soon we were managing four projects at one go. It started to multiply quickly and today, there are about over 100 different digitalisation projects in the finance department alone.”

In addition to the intended outcome that is increased productivity, Mr Chia observed that NCS employees had taken it upon themselves to scale the projects, which was heartening to watch. “They saw that the technology has the potential to make their own workflow easier, and decided to take the initiative and create more experiments,” he explained.

“When people find purpose in the things they do, in a way, they find a North Star to guide their path. This gives meaning to the journey, and when they see that the project creates a larger impact beyond themselves, they are motivated to go even further. It’s just how we are as humans,” Mr
Chia said with a smile.