Update June 2020:
One year ago when I wrote this piece, some were still against the idea of Flexible Work Arrangements. Fast forward to today, working from home has become a norm and telecommuting has proven to be possible. In early 2020, Singapore and the rest of the world started our largest Work from Home (WFH) experiment as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Experts believe that this would continue to be a norm after the pandemic is over.
This has proven what academics have advocated all along. All we needed was a change in perspective and willingness to let go of the traditional ways of doing things 🙂
Flexible working arrangements such as flexi-time and working from home have yet to gain acceptance in Singapore. Based on the recent Ranstand WorkMonitor, 76% of Singaporeans agreed with the statement: “At my employer, we still work in a ‘traditional manner‘; everyone works at the office during opening hours.”.
This is despite the fact that the Singapore’s Ministry for Manpower launched the Tripartite Standard on Flexible Working Arrangements in 2017 to encourage more companies to practice flexi-time (staggered hours) and flexi-place (Telecommuting).
As an average office worker or PMET, I can definitely relate to this.
I spent the first few years of my career working in companies with more “traditional” working arrangements. They did not offer flexible work arrangements. We had to come exactly at 9am and could only leave after 6pm.
To some of them, one’s performance was secondary to the time spent in the office. If employees left earlier, this was frowned upon and they were seen as lazier or less of a team player. If employees came earlier, they were seen as more hardworking.
I did not like this system and thought it was a lot of “wayang”. On some days, when I finished my work ahead of time, it came to a point that I was sitting in the office just watching YouTube videos and checking my stock performance – waiting for 6 pm.
However, I grudgingly accepted that this is life in Singapore. Employers care about face-time.
Things changed for the better this year when I joined a new company.
In addition to a better package, one of the highlights was having the privilege of flexible work arrangements.
I could work from home in the mornings and come to work during or after lunch.
There were times where some of my colleagues did not even come to office at all. However, I could see that they were contributing lots to the team consistently and generating tons of revenue.
There was simply no correlation between time spent at one’s office desk and their performance.
While the Singapore government recognizes the value of flexible working arrangements, with TAFEP listing it as one of the 8 good employment practices that all employers should adopt, employers seem to have been resistant to this.
In this article, I hope to summarize the benefits of flexible working arrangements. I hope that after reading this article, more employers in Singapore will consider extending flexible work arrangements to all.
1. Workers become more productive & satisfied
There is so much evidence out there that shows that flexible working arrangements benefit employee productivity and satisfaction.
A total of 60 percent of HR directors have seen an increase in work productivity when employees have the option to work from home.
In fact, a robust two-year study conducted by Stanford University researchers showed an astounding productivity boost among the telecommuters, equivalent to a full day’s work. According to Professor Nicholas Bloom, employees started earlier, took shorter breaks and worked until the end of the day.
According to research by Zenefits, The State of Flexible Work Arrangements, 73% of employees said flexible work arrangements increased their satisfaction at work.
I can see why this is the case.
First of all, for many people – home is often free from distractions.
Working in the office can be distracting at times. I am sure all of us have encountered situations when we were trying to concentrate on something but have colleagues chatting and laughing loudly in the background. Or worse, colleagues who play music loudly without using headphones and assume everyone likes working to their music.
In my personal experience, working from home helps me focus better. I personally dislike being interrupted when I am in the middle of concentrating on important tasks. It sometimes distracts me when people come to my table to ask me questions even though it is clear I am concentrating on something.
In short, having the option to work from home can help employees concentrate better especially when they are doing deep work.
Havard Business Review: Changing a culture of face time
2. Society benefits from reduced congestion in public transport
By having everyone to come to work at the same time and leave work at the same time, we end up with situations like the picture above – Crowds; Delays and Stress.
Every morning, people have to queue up to enter trains or buses; then queue up to exit the MRT; queue up to take the escalator and for some, to take their office lift. For those who drive, they need to deal with traffic jams.
Wouldn’t it be better if everyone could come at another time or work from home sometimes?
Employers can really benefit from this. If an employee has the ability to work remotely from home, they save time on commute, meaning they may be inclined to start work earlier and finish later.
This also benefits employees’ wellbeing. Not only are crowds stressful, they also delay commute.
This add ons to the stress that employees face. Studies have shown that adding 20 minutes to your commute time makes you as miserable as taking a 20 percent paycut.
Multiple studies have shown that commuting can be more stressful than actually working, and that the longer your commute, the less satisfied you may be with your job and with life in general.
Society also benefits as well as this reduces the strain on our public transport system and traffic.
3. Reduces employee turnover
When people have more control over own schedule, they feel happy. When there is no need to sit in office and pretend to do work, they feel happy. When they are trusted by their employers to be self-motivated, they are happy.
However, it is not just employees who benefit but businesses as well.
Visionary tech leaders such as Bill Gates have shared that flexible work arrangements is the most important perk companies can give their employees.
His view is backed by a new study from Harvard Business School which found that companies that let their employees “work from anywhere” and work whenever they want wind up with employees who are more loyal, more productive, and cost less.
Ultimately, the retention of employees would also address the concern of
turnover thus resulting in substantial savings that would otherwise have been incurred in recruiting, training and developing new hires.
HubSpot’s Consumer Omnibus of 2017 found for that having a flexible work environment beat out the need for a competitive salary, with 53 percent of those surveyed naming it as the #1 most important employee benefit.
On top of that, flexible work arrangements can also help attract talent. Research by the Ministry of Manpower in Singapore found that 54% of the employees said that the ability to work at home was important or extremely important to them in considering a new job.
Companies with flexible work practices are cited as “best practice” employers, and this helps to attract and retain employees.
4. Workers get to save money
Some have the luxury to work in workplaces with cheaper food like Tanjong Pagar.
In Maxwell Market, you can get Yong Tau Foo for as cheap as $2.50. At Maxwell Building, you get beehoon with vegetables and egg at $.250. There is also a caifan store in Tanjong Pagar that gives you cai png at $3.
In contrast, some areas like Suntec can be quite expensive.
The cheapest meal i found was $4 fishball noodle at Encik Tan and $4.60 Nasi Lemak at Qiji. But I can’t be eating this every single day.
Working from home means I can eat home cooked food – which saves me a lot cumulatively in the long run and is also much better for my health.
5. Families benefit from flexible working arrangement
For many in Singapore, family ranks the most important, ahead of personal health and financial stability. Yet, research by Families for Life Council has shown that one in two felt their long working hours prevented them from spending more time with their family.
With more flexibility, employees can have more time at home with their aging parent or children.
In many cases, I feel that this could potentially reduce the need for domestic helpers and stress from parents having to rush to pick up their child from infant care.
In many companies, we see this benefit extended only to working mothers. In my view, this should be given to fathers as well.
Thus, it was heartening to hear that President Halimah Yacob called for more firms to adopt flexible arrangements for working dads.
Often when we discuss the topic of work life balance in Singapore, the conversation is often skewed towards women.
Should that really be the case in 2019?
For my generation, men and women are sharing responsibilities of earning money and care-taking. Fathers are also playing an equal role in taking care of children, and there is even a trend of more men choosing to become house husbands.
“Historically, flexible working has been the domain of mothers balancing childcare with returning to work, or a privilege earned through hard work and company loyalty, rather than an optional working practice. In order to achieve true inclusion within a business, flexibility must be offered to all employees, creating ‘family-friendly’ policies in place of ‘female-friendly’ policies.”– Hay’s Group, head of people and culture, Ms Sandra Henke
There are so many benefits which I did not highlight above – never feeling tired at work; treasuring time spent with my colleagues more; not having to worry about missing delivery of groceries or parcels…. The benefits are endless.
As Member of Parliament, Dr. Daniel Goh, pointed out,
“Vesting employees such flexibility allows them to be at their best, fosters happy families so that employees can focus on their work, and therefore positively impacts productivity.”
However, since I believe employees and the government already know the benefits, this article is targeted at employers instead. Thus, I focused on how flexible working arrangements in Singapore would benefit businesses and society.
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