Lamudi CEO Kenneth Stern joined the panel of distinguished speakers on the second day of the Digicon Omni 2020: Navigating the Post-Digital Age. The virtual conference, which runs from October 5 to 9, is organized by IMMAP (Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines).
Exploring the theme Will We Work the Same Way Again? The Future of Work, the well-respected panel discussed at length how digital technologies introduced a new normal in the workplace.
Stern joined Manny Gonzales, Head of Consulting and Strategy Director of Ogilvy Philippines, and Peachy Pacquing, Masters Program Director of APAC, Hyper Island.
Accelerated Digital Transformation
Acknowledging the major change in the workplace, the panelists shared how their organization adjusted to the remote set-up brought by the pandemic. Gonzales said that they’ve prioritized mental well-being more to cope with the demands of the new normal.
He mentioned, “We allow 15-minute intervals for people to breathe mentally and functionally.”
Pacquing, meanwhile, pointed out that they’ve been planning to replicate educational courses online prior to COVID-19 that when the pandemic struck, they simply had to make a few adjustments. However, she acknowledged that the transition proved difficult, still.
“We’re a very high-touch learning institution where we have very intense learning-by-doing experiences. If we’re to translate that online, that would mean us moving out of our comfort zones and experimenting on a daily basis.”
For Stern, the biggest challenge is forming relationships exclusively via digital channels.
He said, “I took over as CEO only in September so I actually never met any of my team in person. The usual tactics you would have, the cooler talks, stopping by their desk, don’t suffice anymore. So, how do you build rapport when you’ve never met someone physically?”
For this reason, coming up with new ways of engagement became his priority in leading his team.
“The whole leadership idea has really changed recently because of this. It’s not just about showing up in the office anymore. It’s about including ourselves and helping people’s lives get better,” he said.
Growth Opportunities and Challenges
Despite the hurdles the pandemic brought, there are industries poised to see significant developments.
Speaking on behalf of the real estate sector, Stern emphasized that because of the current remote set-up, the home has now become the main asset. More people are interested in making their homes work-friendly.
“Forty percent of [Lamudi] inquiries require some sort of amenity. People really care about having that shared space in terms of WiFi, pool, or even a balcony, which has increased to eight percent in terms of the page views. Things like that make a big difference now when you’re considering your next home,” Stern mentioned.
He added that millennials have hit the real estate market, buying their first homes and going for long-term investments.
On the commercial real estate segment, Stern reported that there’s been an increase in demand for warehouse and logistics spaces and vacant lands.
“We’ve seen a 14 percent increase for parking lots and properties with available parking because of the increase in delivery vehicles out in the market,” he said.
In terms of location, CALABARZON, the region closest to Metro Manila, is a popular hotspot for buyers looking for vacant lands, according to Stern.
Noting how the pandemic changed the landscape in the very traditional industry of real estate, he said that tech companies, such as Lamudi, are able to make property information available for seekers amid the current crisis.
Meanwhile, Gonzales acknowledged the struggles of the work-from-home set-up, saying that meetings and client presentations have become more challenging now. He said that part of the reason is that the majority of the work is social.
“The processes and outputs are still related to people. That’s why after that two, three weeks of work-from-home [situation], now we’re getting the stress out of it. Now, we’re realizing that it’s hard,” he said.
For this reason, Gonzales predicts that the future of work will be a mix of online and offline.
This hybrid set-up is what’s happening now in the education sector. Pacquing said that they have a Business Transformation program, which consists of bespoke courses for companies. These are made available online. The Masters program, on the other hand, features 50 percent face-to-face and 50 percent online classes.
One major challenge for industries in the pandemic recovery is addressing the unemployment problem the crisis brought. Pacquing said that reskilling professionals will depend on the availability of necessary tools.
Comparing Singapore to the Philippines, “I noticed the disparity in terms of accessibility of technology and internet robustness. That has to be taken for consideration.
“Barring that, I think the opportunities are open to everyone. It’s a matter of will,” she said.
Redefined Company Culture
With the drastic changes happening in the workplace, the experts agreed that office culture must respond to the needs of the people.
Gonzales pointed out the importance of knowing which work strategies can be maintained for a long period. “You have to see the dual role of productivity and sustainability. Can you sustain what you are doing, how you’re working in this new set up? Do you need to train yourself to work differently, work smartly, or more efficiently?”
Harping on the conference’s theme, he added, “Omni yourself in the way you work.”
Stern, meanwhile, highlighted the value of empowerment and engagement. “Be involved. Be visible. Be vocal. Be the face of the company,” he said.
He added, “It’s not just about revenue. Decisions that leaders make can highly impact the lives of your employees and their families. It’s a shift from revenue to well-being, health, and safety.”
For Pacquing, work should be defined anew in this new normal. “What does work mean? What does work mean to whom? What’s the job to be done? There’s a functional job, which is to earn income. There’s an emotional job, which is to find your identity. There’s a social job, which is to be included.
“If we look at the job that way, then the organizational structure, the culture, the processes, they will all start to flow from understanding why people hold jobs in the first place,” she said.