According to a new YouGov survey commissioned by Tableau, the world's leading analytics platform, business leaders in Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) have largely offset concerns about changed working conditions following the global Covid-19 pandemic by relying more heavily on data to inform decision making.
95 per cent of APJ leaders reported at least one major issue as a result of workplace shifts in response to Covid-19, with 47 per cent concerned about their company's ability to solve problems, a little more than a third (36 per cent) citing poorly structured meetings as a problem, and 35 per cent citing a lack of data as a barrier to their conversations.
The research, which included responses from almost 2,000 business leaders from nine countries, including Singapore, Japan and Australia, found almost a quarter (24%) of senior APJ executives had seen a decline in discussion quality since the beginning of the pandemic - whilst 36% had experienced positive changes.
The Quality Conversations survey sought to examine how business leaders had adapted decision making and employee engagement since new public health measures and restrictions were introduced last year.
Business conversations are better with data
Perhaps one of the most surprising results overall was that many leaders believed changes associated with the pandemic had actually improved business conversations - despite moving into a largely virtual working environment. Interestingly, regional businesses that increased data use were more than twice as likely to report positive change to conversation (57%) during the pandemic than those that hadn’t (21%).
In particular, executives said workplace meetings had become better prioritised (61%), more inclusive (60%), productive (57%) and, critically, more likely to be led by data (59%) than prior to the pandemic.
APJ leaders were nearly twice as likely as their counterparts elsewhere in the world to use data to improve workplace decision making and communication, with local leaders in Singapore (52 per cent) and Australia (54 per cent) significantly more likely to use data than markets such as the United Kingdom (29 per cent).
On the importance of using data in business conversations to make decisions, 67% of APJ leaders ranked generating actionable insights for the business as the most crucial factor for a quality discussion.
JY Pook, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific & Japan, Tableau, said: “There has been no greater challenge to leadership and business culture in decades than that caused by the pandemic. While leaders recognise the importance of data to accelerate decision making in a rapidly changing and uncertain environment, they are now at a critical crossroads to walk the talk in order for their business to become data-driven. A data-driven organisation is built when leaders are committed to this change and employees are supported with building their skills and given access to the right tools. Only then can everyone use data to draw actionable insights and speed up decision making.”
Singapore leaders profess optimism even amid Covid-19
Employees were found to stand down and listen up more. In Singapore, 83% of leaders found that the use of data created an environment conducive to listening, built trust (78%), and minimised the influence of personal opinions or egos (76%) in a discussion.
In fact, more than half of Singapore executives (53%) believe that the top action to improve workplace discussions is by opening up conversations to people in the organisation closest to the topic. In contrast, only 45% of regional leaders felt the same.
Leslie Ong, Country Manager, Southeast Asia, Tableau, said: “Changing workplace conditions and the rising use of technology during the pandemic has paved the way for flatter team structures, allowing businesses in Singapore to respond to new challenges quickly. Data has the potential to level the playing field, so that everyone, including those in bank branches or retail stores can participate in the company’s decision-making process. Employees will also be more engaged as they feel empowered and valued by their organisation.”
Professor Donnel Briley, a social psychologist and Professor of Marketing at University of Sydney who provided commentary for the report said: “The shift to remote working has shown us how leaders simply can’t use the same set of tools in their toolbag to communicate anymore. But we’re also seeing leaders recognise how data creates a foundation of intelligence for important business discussions - more so in this region than anywhere else. Data will increasingly play a role in shaping such conversations.”
Tjen Chew Lee, Chief Financial Officer at Phoon Huat, one of Singapore’s leading food suppliers, said: “Last year, we expanded our brick-and-mortar presence online to make our baking supplies more accessible to customers during the pandemic. We also launched our omnichannel customer loyalty program to give us more insight into our customers’ online and offline shopping behaviours — data was central in this transition. It is now possible to engage with our customers on a more personalised level than before.”
Overview of regional findings:
Singaporean business leaders have used changing working conditions and the rise of technology to flatten traditional employee hierarchies.
The research found more than half of leaders (53%) had sought to open-up conversations to a wider range of staff in a bid to improve discussions.
To support the change, some 53% of leaders indicated they have used data more in business conversations since Covid-19, as did 47% of SMEs and 63% of large organisations.
The loss of meeting ‘face time’ during the pandemic worries many Australian business leaders and forces them to rethink their leadership approaches.
Almost two-thirds (61%) of Australian business leaders struggled with a lack of non-verbal communication during crucial business discussions. Another 61% said no longer having informal ‘water cooler’ discussions also impacted their ability to engage with others.
Nonetheless, Australian businesses were more positive about the impact of the pandemic on workplace culture and discussion than many other countries. Some 41% of local respondents said the quality of conversations amongst the business had actually improved since the onset of the pandemic, compared to just 27% who had seen a decline in quality.
Younger executives had been more successful in negotiating cultural changes since the pandemic hit Japanese workplaces.
More than a third of business leaders (35%) aged 44 years and below had seen an improvement in workplace discussion compared to executives aged 45 years and above (25%).
These emerging leaders were less reliant on meetings to build consensus and more likely to use data to help drive outcome-focused discussions.