In the fourth and final session of the BusinessWorld Economic Forum, held on May 18, the spotlight was shone on an issue that deeply concerns many businesses today: the disruption of the workplace by technological advancements and the rise of the millennials.
A panel of three private-sector leaders was assembled to tackle the subject before the roughly 500 attendees of the forum, which took place in the Grand Ballroom of Grand Hyatt Manila in Taguig City.
These leaders were Arthur R. Policarpio, co-founder and chief executive officer of Mobext Philippines, a mobile-first creative digital agency; Luis Miguel O. Aboitiz, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of the corporate business group of Aboitiz Power Corp.; and Camille A. Villar, managing director of Vista Land & Lifescapes, Inc.
Mr. Policarpio’s talk revolved around two trends he described as “big” and “destructive.” The first of which is the virtual company model. “At this point we should ask this question, ‘Why should we even need to go to an office… when we can work anywhere?’”
He cited the technology firm Automattic, which owns the content management system WordPress, as a company that has gone virtual. Its employees, who are located in a number of countries worldwide, largely work from home.
“Why should you embrace the virtual company model? Think about it, you have the capability to tap a talent pool of 50 million people anywhere in the world via the freelance marketplaces… You reduce your office costs, increase worker satisfaction, reduce traffic,” Mr. Policarpio said.
Coinciding with the emergence of the virtual companies is the rise of the freelancers and the freelance Web sites. The development, Mr. Policarpio said, is “mostly driven by the millennial work force who prefers flexibility and control over the way they want to work.” And Filipinos are increasingly getting in on freelancing. One freelance marketplace, Mr. Policarpio said, has over a million Filipino members.
The second trend is the sharing economy, and it has given rise to a whole new kind of company, a marketplace company that does not need a lot of physical assets to create real value, Mr. Policarpio said. “There are consumers or people who need services on one side, and you have people, not companies, who can provide those services on the other side. The marketplace business… creates a platform that enables those two to find each other,” he explained.
For navigating these trends, Mr. Policarpio said, “CEOs need to be students all over again.” He also suggested building a culture of learning into an organization since the millennials are “hungry for learning.”
Automation is also changing the workplace. Mr. Aboitiz had a personal encounter with one type of it, called semi-intelligent automation.
“The last time I was [in the United States], I was shocked because I had a problem with my cell phone. So I had called a call center. No person answered my call. It was a computer that answered the call. It conversed with me. It answered back. I didn’t type any numbers on my phone. I just said the numbers, numbers of my credit card… any details it wanted,” Mr. Aboitiz said. “Only when I asked questions that were unusual was I passed on to a real person.”
In boardroom decision-making discussions, Mr. Aboitiz believes that some of the questions that are going to be asked are: “How do we change?” “How do we automate?” “What do we use to automate?” “How do we transition from where we are to automation?” “Do we take big leaps or small strides?”
Millennials are finding themselves answering these type of questions — and other important management questions — as they rise through the ranks into ever more senior positions.
But these individuals are often misunderstood. “The problem, it seems, is that we tend to overly generalize traits that we attribute to them,” Ms. Villar said. “Generalizations, while useful, must be employed with caution because they tend to overlook the uniqueness and complexities of all of us. Profiling a generation, be it baby boomers, the Gen X, or the millennials, should inform but not shape our thinking.”
“With a generation of socially motivated, consumption-crazy but creatively innovative individuals starting to take over the work force, it is imperative that we acquire deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses in order to make informed strategic decisions,” she added.
Ms. Villar shared a few things she had learned about her generation that members of other generations may want to take note of. One is that they are outspoken but respectful of hierarchy and wisdom of experience. “The best millennial leaders I’ve met both in and outside Vista Land have found a good balance between their passion for new ideas and pushing boundaries and… recognizing the value of knowledge established by time, tradition and mentors.”
They are “flexible, independent, collaborative and innovative.” Ms. Villar said this combination of characteristics allows them to thrive in an environment of constant innovation through collaboration. “Thus it becomes more important to mentor this generation in order to provide guidance and essential feedback mechanisms for self-correction and self-improvement.”
Millennials are also “infinite learners,” Ms. Villar said. “Combining the easier access to data with the drive to learn more, millennial leaders have the potential to bring human society to heights unforeseen if given the right opportunity and proper understanding,” she said.