The COVID-19 pandemic has had twin effects on the workforce globally: One, it has accelerated the transition to remote working and the hybrid workplace. Two, it has catalysed the faster adoption of a hybrid (human plus digital) workforce.\n\u201cAt the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, enterprises in Southeast Asia were scrambling to ensure business continuity while implementing work-at-home policies,\u201d said Sherrel Roche, an Asia-Pacific IT analyst at Frost & Sullivan. \u201cThis was more pronounced in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. Enterprises were under immense pressure to provide efficient customer services during the pandemic while simultaneously exploring digital solutions. Enterprises were overwhelmed as their day-to-day operations were disrupted and their business-continuity plans were tested.\u201d\n\u201cWe are looking at a prolonged period of hybrid working\u2014from home and office in different proportions,\u201d said Indranil Roy, executive director of the Human Capital practice at Deloitte Consulting.\nSome companies adapted quickly, such as Singapore\u2019s DBS Bank. When the pandemic started, because of their early adoption of the cloud- and mobility-first strategy, the bank\u2019s employees were able to immediately transition to home-based working arrangements with no productivity loss. Likewise, AcePLP, a Singapore engineering consultancy, shifted from its traditional face-to-face courses to an online learning platform to enhance the skills of its employees. \u201cRemote working is reshaping the future of learning; it forces technology-averse executives and employees to adapt and equip with digital workflows and skills,\u201d said Ivan Tang, operations manager at AcePLP.\nBut the hybrid workplace is just part of the shift under way. The hybrid workforce is also emerging, combining digitally savvy people and automation systems such as chatbots and robotic process automation augmented with artificial intelligence that do work people used to do, as well as new kinds of work. The hybrid workforce will be found in all realms of business, said Sneha Kapoor, an Asia-Pacific research manager at analyst firm IDC Financial Insights.\n\u201cIntelligent automation is capable of augmenting and automating work while building opportunities to achieve new value within organizations. Front-office automation will accelerate further,\u201d she said. \u201cWe are also seeing increasing adoption of shiny new features, such as process mining, process discovery, digital assistants, and bot resilience and health.\u201d\n\u201cWith Asia being the first region to experience the changes necessitated by the pandemic, hybrid workplaces have been readily embraced by Southeast Asian businesses,\u201d said Sukhbir Sandhu, senior sales director for ASEAN at virtualisation vendor Citrix Systems. \u201cNaturally, the transition to a hybrid model is more straightforward for knowledge workers as the tools required in such roles will be more accessible, digitally enabled, and are easily available.\u201d\nBut hybrid work may not be as feasible for workers whose jobs involve high levels of human interaction or require physical access to precision tools, such as frontline healthcare workers and laboratory professionals, Sandhu said. \u201cThat said, thanks to the recent advances made in workplace technology, hybrid work models are gaining traction in these sectors, such as the healthcare industry which is benefiting from the rapid adoption of telemedicine and e-health.\u201d\nSoutheast Asia is following two tracks for recovery scenarios in 2021, said Gavin Tay, a Gartner analyst. \u201cThe emerging economies such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand) versus mature economies such as Singapore demand different approaches for CIOs operating across the region.\u201d\nSoutheast Asia is not a monolith, with widespread unevenness in the mix of jobs and the internet infrastructure across the region. \u201cEnterprises across Southeast Asia are embarking on their digital transformation journey. However, enterprises in Singapore are further along their digital journey, while enterprises in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Philippines are gradually progressing,\u201d Roche said.\nBut the pandemic may have helped businesses in less-developed countries because of the requirements to modernise to stay in business during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The pause in the region\u2019s notoriously congested traffic as people worked remotely reinforced that the old work patterns were unsustainable. CIOs, governments, and providers alike redoubled their efforts to enable reliable telecommunications and internet access, Tay said, from improving the broadband networks to rethinking data-centre connectivity agreements.\nEnterprises in Singapore and Malaysia were quick to implement remote work and address the changing workforce preferences to retain and attract talent, Frost & Sullivan\u2019s Roche said. In the Philippines, the customer service and contact centre outsourcing services industry had to quickly move employees to a work-at-home environment within weeks while addressing infrastructure inadequacy and network stability and ensuring service quality and client data security, she said.\nTay said 85% of all Southeast Asian CIOs reported that relationships with their CEOs were strengthened during the pandemic, and 92% of Southeast Asian CIOs report that they saw an increase in requests for \u201chigher value, strategic things\u201d from business leaders.\nRoche said that enterprises in the region are adapting to new ways of working and are expediting their investments in advanced video conferencing, automation, artificial intelligence, workforce optimization solutions, intelligent self-service tools, chatbots, and cloud technologies to augment their workforce and deliver continued services. She sees enterprises partnering with ICT service providers \u201cto reimagine solutions by combining next-generation technologies with the human element to deliver business value.\u201d\nAs a result of these forces and actions, Southeast Asian CIOs are now closer to a level playing field. And in many cases a pivot towards a distributed workforce has become the default\u2014\u201ca natural next step\u201d, Tay said. Roche concurred: \u201cThe hybrid workforce will be the status quo in the near future,\u201d Roche said.