I don’t think we need to bring up the issues that are still impacting the economies in Southeast Asia due to COVID-19. We’ll assume everyone is aware that it has had a negative impact.

When it comes to digital transformation, it is likely that the pandemic has accelerated adoption ten-fold or more and a result of that is an increasing need for workplace innovation.

Pre-COVID, 70% of companies in Southeast Asia, were reportedly looking to spend more on HR Tech in what was already a $400bn global market.  Now it is closer to 100% of companies, who are having to spend more as Work From Home or virtual hiring and team management takes hold. 

We speak to Arclab co-founder James Chia about the future of the Southeast Asia’s workforce.

This is where the Workplace Accelerator comes into play. This 16-week programme is aimed at nurturing the next generation of HR Tech startups in the region. It offers more than 120 hours of direct access to the accelerator’s operating partners, mentors, VCs and service partners along with potential funding from the Accelerator’s own investment syndicate.

In fact, over a 100 senior leaders from companies like DBS, Google, Aviva and UOB are supporting the programme through real world access and feedback for its participants. 

We had a chance to speak to Daniel Callaghan, CEO of The Workplace Accelerator about the new accelerator and what it means for the industry in Southeast Asia. A seasoned HR practitioner, Daniel has worked in Europe before bringing his talents to Asia and setting up Veremark, a global provider of pre-employment checks.

This is what we had to share.

Congrats on the unveiling of the new cohort – what stands about this batch of startups?

The key points that standout is the range of different solutions within the cohort and breadth of experiences of the founders.  We purposefully didn’t want to have any sense of competition between the participants particularly given how ecosystem and partner centric the HR Tech market is.  We have fantastic businesses in the core of the HR Tech thinking as well as having expanded the category to included exciting options like Rush Owl which runs a micro transit platform enabling companies to offer private bus networks for their employees or Fitbots.com which is an OKR platform designed to help companies to adopt a more outcome based style of management in this age of remote working. 

Should you might want a more controlled means to measure activity and productivity within your remote team then we also have Flowtrack which acts as an employee monitoring software as well as a means to help companies be more aware of who and what is being downloaded through company equipment.

We created the programme because we wanted to help companies to be more familiar with the option of tools out there and looked for businesses that could actively play a part in solving challenges in this new world of work.  This is why we also liked businesses like Pmaps.in and MoveUP so much as well as they enable better more hiring and assessment as well as improving team engagement and development remotely through its micro learning and rewards programme.

Similarly there are just fundamental truisms that always need to be solved in that attracting great talent is tough and making payroll can also be tough especially when growing.  

For these reasons, we were very excited by Workbean.co plan to create Asia’s largest culture director and Zetl’s proprietary credit management solution to help companies with salary advances.

I think it’s this diversity of solutions that will enable the businesses to truly collaborate and magnify the power of the programme.

What can your portfolio hope to gain from this 16-week programme?

We hope that they will get all the insight and support needed to get their business to the  next stage.  As a programme, we have built this as entrepreneurs who have been in their shoes, at their stage and in their market.  It has been constructed to give the hands on operational support and market access that can often be missing in more generalist accelerators.
We broke the programme into 3 core phases that are Learn, Execute and Raise.

In the learn segment, the programme comes with a dedicated bench of operating partners who will spend a lot of time with each of the businesses working on their functional area of expertise through multiple 121s and masterclasses.  

In the execute segment. we have fantastic involvement from around a 100 mentors as well who typically hold key decision making roles in HR functions at leading companies who have all agreed to spend time with the businesses in order to get real world market access and feedback as well as ongoing support from the operating partners to put their updated thinking into practice.

Finally, in the Raise segment towards the end of the programme, there are a number of lunch n learns with entrepreneurs who are typically at a Series A+ stage in the HR Tech space as well as 121 VC coaching meetings from investors as well as fireside chats with prominent investors.

This is all capped off with a schedule of tailored meetings with active investors in the space in place of a public demo day.  This is also supported by the Workplace Accelerator Investment syndicate too.

Do you see the industry reverting to the traditional form or are the COVID-related changes permanent?

It’s an interesting question and dilema.  One would hope that we get to keep the best parts of both.  If anything, Covid has shown how much of the old system was broken, out of date or just redundant in today’s more connected world.

On the other hand, it has also highlighted the parts that are precious and how much we can enjoy the social interaction of being together at work.
In the main though, I think that many of the changes will stick.  It’s definitely an inflection point in what many having been touting as the “New world of work” finally arriving.

The economic advantages to companies alone should be enough to make businesses proceed with their new operating processes if not the environmental or lifestyle gains that they all bring with them.

As a leader in the HR industry, where do you see the current gaps in the Southeast Asian market?

I think there is a growing sense of what HR can be in the region and it is moving away from being jsut focused on payroll and policies.  A key part of why we launched the accelerator is that because Covid was having a massive impact on how we work which is in direct alignment with all the areas HR should have an influence over.  If anything this has been a wonderful catalyst for HR to get its seat at the table.  Any leader who has not done so has missed an opportunity.

If anything, that is the one thing where I think there still remains the gap in the SEA market, of HR leaders who are staking their claim and ownership of operational areas and strategic planning.  However when you see the great work being done by the likes of IHRP and SHRI as well as other bodies in the region, then you know this is being dealt with.

Where do you see the HR industry in Southeast Asia in the next 5 years?

The HR industry must adapt its focus.  Technology is going to be so pervasive that a lot of the day to days tasks of HR are just going to disappear. Payroll will be gone as we know it or entirely automated in the next 5 years.  Performance reviews and feedback in the annual 360 format will change drastically to real time and continuous.  L&D will be digital and mobile.  Recruitment will be heavily automated and digitised to such a degree that the recruitment is set for a real shock to the system.

If HR can’t reshift its focus to be more invovled in operations, talent management, building and protecting culture and ensuring the company’s brand/values as an employer mirrors that of its perception as a product or service then I think they will find themselves struggling to justify their role.

What’s next for Workplace Accelerator?

We are focused on this first cohort and have a fantastic partner in Veremark which is doing a fantastic role in helping companies think about how companies can verify and validate employee credentials.  They are a massive believer in HR Technology and innovation so know they have big plans for the Workplace Accelerator.

Our expectation is to run another cohort next year however rather than repeat it in South East Asia, to launch it in UK or UAE etc and start to build out a global ecosystem for HR Tech innovation.

We want to make HR Tech a force for good on a global scale and believe the Workplace Accelerator can be a great vehicle to spread the word.