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Desire for flexi-work not surprising and firms are willing to offer the option

Desire for flexi-work not surprising and firms are willing to offer the option

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 26 Apr 2022
Author: Sue-Ann Tan; Krist Boo; Jessie Lim & Tay Hong Yi

Flexible arrangements are now the preferred way of working, according to findings by the Institute of Policy Studies.

It is not surprising that people want flexible working arrangements to continue, and companies are prepared to offer that option as the new normal.

Flexible arrangements are the preferred way of working as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Singapore workers would like employers to listen, communicate and adjust new work arrangements to suit their preferences, according to a paper released by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) on Monday (April 25).

Some will even consider looking for new jobs if employers require them to return to the office on most days, the report revealed.

This is not an unexpected state of affairs, said executive coach Hardeep Matharu.

"As we add in the effects of Covid-19, where we all learnt that we can effectively work in a hybrid way (mixing remote and in-office operations), workers feel more entitled to demand flexibility which, therefore, should match their preferences," he said.

"We won't find employees accepting a full return to the office unless the nature of their role requires it... I would expect it to be a norm that workers spend three days in the office a week at least, and very few will want to be in the office five days a week."

Certain demographic groups, such as women, also are more inclined towards flexible work arrangements, especially those with dependants, the IPS study showed.

Mothers have always wanted flexible work arrangements, said Ms Sher-li Torrey, founder of [email protected]

"The only difference is that employees realise now that it can be done. This means if an employer chooses not to allow it, the reasons stopping the implementation of such arrangements would be more of mindset stubbornness or a lack of strong managerial skills to manage employees on flexible work arrangements."

The public service will take the lead with flexible working arrangements, a tripartite statement had said.

"Eligible public officers in job roles which are conducive to hybrid work will be allowed to telecommute for an average of two days a week," it said.

It added that the public service will also develop new supervisory skills in terms of managing teams effectively in a hybrid work environment.

Boutique law firm That.Legal said none of its staff is required to go to the office, except for monthly "roll calls". It still plans to have staff gather once a month for discussions and team bonding.

Some 90 per cent of its staff prefer to get their work done from home, said executive director Mark Teng.

"In fact, some argue they have gained the ability to better balance their work and their personal lives - some use the extra time to exercise, spend time with their loved ones, and to pursue personal interests."

He added that data also suggests that working from home saves two to three hours a day from commuting.

Mr Chan Chee Kong, chief operating officer of GlobalTix, said the firm is taking a wait-and-see approach for now. Currently, employees have the flexibility to return two to three times a week.

Coinhako co-founder Gerry Eng said his firm intends to retain a hybrid structure, to allow staff freedom and control over their time.

A spokesman for the Action Community for Entrepreneurship, the national trade association for start-ups, said allowing staff to work from home or anywhere has strengthened the resilience of local start-ups.

"It will continue to play an important role in building work-life harmony and enhancing productivity. Meanwhile, employees must also understand business needs and the employer's perspective on building a cohesive workforce and be adaptable, to create win-win situations."

Ms Nur Fatehah Salim, 28, made use of the flexible work arrangement during the pandemic to co-found SG Healthcare Heroes to support healthcare workers.

Her company, media intelligence firm Meltwater, will extend flexi-work policies to its entire workforce in Singapore.

Before the pandemic, flexi-work was available only on a case-by-case basis, mostly for senior employees who travelled widely for work, and for parents returning to work.

Some employees will now need to come into the office only two to three days each week, while others can work fully remotely.

Said the senior media analyst: "With the flexible work environment during Covid-19, I was able to manage my time at work much better and use the extra hours towards founding and running SG Healthcare Heroes."

Flexible work arrangements now preferred: 10 takeaways from the IPS report

Workers now say that flexible work arrangements should be the new norm for Singapore, with four in 10 also saying that employees should be allowed to work from home three days a week.

These were among the results of a paper by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) that examined attitudes towards work and workplace arrangements amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Here are the top 10 takeaways from the report:

1. Flexible work arrangements should be the new norm for workplaces here, according to about half of the survey respondents.

2. Working from home on most days should be the norm, around 20 per cent to 35 per cent of those polled said. Recently, around four in 10 also felt that employees should be allowed to work from home three days a week.

3. Most women polled also wanted flexible arrangements, with 73 per cent saying that should be the new norm, especially those with dependants.

4. Employers should allow the workers to choose the days they prefer to return to the office, nearly half of the respondents said.

5. Some said they would consider looking for another job if their employer required them to return to the office on most days.

6. Some would rather work from the office for three reasons: easy access to tech systems, collaborating with colleagues and being in a conducive space for work.

7. Working from home has three benefits: workers felt they are less likely to catch Covid-19, have flexibility in balancing personal life and work schedules and are able to attend to family needs.

8. About half of the respondents said they learnt new skills during the pandemic that would help them in their careers.

9. Work aspirations have changed due to the pandemic, said nearly half of the people polled, with some considering a career switch.

10. Workers were more likely to prefer taking precautions, like taking tests, to lower their risk of getting infected with Covid-19 at the workplace.

S'pore workers want bosses to meet their flexi-work needs: IPS survey

Whether it is work from home or return to the office - and for how many or on which days - Singapore workers would like employers to listen, communicate and adjust new work arrangements to suit their preferences.

And if employers insist that they trot into the office on most days, those who feel strongly about having flexibility in how they work are inclined to find a new job.

The findings, released on Monday (April 25) by the Institute of Policy Studies, reveal how workers' feelings towards their work routines have shifted towards autonomy amid the pandemic.

The study was done over nine months, tracking respondents from July last year. 

The results reinforced calls from the tripartite grouping of the Government, unions and employers, which last week urged employers to make flexi-work arrangements permanent.

From Tuesday (April 26), companies can recall 100 per cent of their staff back to the office, up from the current 75 per cent, as Singapore further relaxes its Covid-19 safe management measures.

Dr Mathew Mathews, who led the study, said: "The big story that we want to tell is really that Singapore has made some kind of transition towards living with Covid-19… Some of the gains that we have got through learning to work from home in a productive manner need to be kept in mind as we think about how to get back to work."

The pandemic showed that workers not only remain productive off-site by working from home, they also get more out of their personal lives, said the research team, which also includes research assistant Fiona Phoa, associate director Mike Hou and research associate Elizabeth Lim from IPS’ social lab.

The survey tracked more than 2,000 respondents drawn from an online panel from technology company Toluna.

About 500 respondents were polled every two weeks over 19 fortnights to track shifts in attitudes.

A follow-up report may be released next year, Dr Mathew said.

The number of workers going into the office surged from more than half during the earlier phase of the survey to 74 per cent in the first 10 days of April, as the Government gradually lifted caps on workers on-site.

Not that all of them wanted to, though. Around one third of those who worked from home said they felt pressured to return to the office, the report said.

More women (73 per cent) than men (66 per cent) felt that home-working or flexi-work should remain the norm. More women (94 per cent) with children or caring for aged dependents at home felt so compared with their male counterparts (86 per cent), mirroring global studies that show women tended to shoulder more of the domestic burdens during pandemic lockdowns.

Ms Sher-li Torrey, who started social enterprise [email protected] to support working mothers, said firms are calling workers back to the office, reverting a two-year trend of FWAs, or flexible work arrangements.

"This is very punishing for mothers, who really thrive on FWA to help them manage work and family. I have been seeing firms cancel their FWA quite quickly - so we saw more mums coming forward to say they are looking for new jobs with more flexibility again," she added.

Dr Mathew said: "We found that different groups had different kinds of situations that need to be taken into account. Employers should take feedback, really understand their workers."

Workstyle consultant Hardeep Matharu said about one-third of his C-suite clients are asking their staff to return to the office unilaterally.

"For the most part, the senior leadership is seeking to maintain the longstanding status quo of the organisations they manage; working in the office was a norm for the very large majority of their tenure.

"A number of senior leaders also remain unconvinced about the viability of hybrid working, feeling that the model hinders productivity, forces an increase in unproductive virtual meetings and prompts a lack of visibility on what their teams are doing.

"As such, an easy solution is to force employees back to the office regardless of what workers want."

When his clients do so, he reminds them of the consequences.

"There are very real risks of not just losing top talent, but also reducing their ability to attract talent,'' he added.

Source: Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.


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