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Empowering Employees in the Post-Pandemic Flexible Future of Work

The long-extending Covid-19 crisis has created an opportunity for businesses to evolve more sophisticated initiatives in addressing employee needs. Beyond managing basic Covid-19 workplace safety measures, this tumultuous period has compelled many businesses to seriously consider the more intimate concerns felt by employees at the workplace.  

The recent work-from-home revolution has spotlighted the clear preference for flexible work among white-collar professionals. 94% of surveyed PMEs in Singapore have indicated that they ‘want flexible work arrangements to stay’. Similarly, 2 out of 3 Hong Kong office staff reportedly, ‘want to keep working-from-home’. 

More significantly, the incoming global ‘resignation tsunami’ has complemented the trend towards flexible work in Asia. This has notedly signalled the rise of ‘pandemic-driven epiphanies’ surrounding work-life balance and the prioritisation of personal health and safety. Hence, beyond being a great disruptor, Covid-19 has also uncovered the vulnerability and hidden inequality of the traditional 9-to-5 pre-pandemic workplace.

Inflexible about flexible work?

The pre-pandemic work culture as we once knew it, heavily stigmatised time-off. Employees were found to put off taking sick leave due to ‘mistrust and fear of judgement from bosses’. Ironically, the image of the office worker soldiering on during the workday despite catching the seasonal flu was once celebrated as a glorified example of employee dedication. 

While the Covid-19 outbreak has certainly forced employers to take sick leave more seriously, the notion that ‘productive work equals long or complete hours at the office’ has still persisted. 

The notion that productivity is measured by the number of hours spent at the office still persists
Image source: Pexels/Yan Kruko

Despite more than a year of remote work, employers remain apprehensive about their ability to effectively manage employees without a physical line-of-sight. In a recent report by Singapore’s Channel Newsasia (CNA), some managers reportedly felt that ‘work from home made people lazy – and hence (employees) could not be trusted to stay away from the office’

This sentiment is not distinct to Singapore’s resident workforce. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Future of Jobs report (2020), ‘78% of business leaders expect some negative impact of (remote or hybrid work systems) on worker productivity… (with) only 15% believing that it will have no impact or a positive impact on productivity’. 

78% of business leaders expect some negative impact of the current way of working on worker productivity

On hybrid and remote work – World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report (2020)

Such counterproductive managerial attitudes have created an inflexibility towards flexible work. Across the world, employees have reported instances of being pressured to return to the office despite not being essential staff needed on site.

For example, global banks in Hong Kong have been pushing hard to get staff back into their offices following the recovery of the Chinese economy. Meanwhile some employees in Singapore have faced demands to return to the office, contrary to government advisories. 

Yet employees certainly aren’t backing down when it comes to their demands for a fairer, more feeling, flexible workplace. If businesses want to retain talent and grow innovation, they need to empower their employees to build their own brand of ‘work-life balance’ tailored to their personalised needs.

Empower employees to take control of their health and safety during COVID-19

Despite the gradual re-opening of offices around the world, many employees still feel uncertain about returning to the office. According to technology and manufacturing company Honeywell, ‘more than 70% of workers do not think their offices are safe’. In Singapore, only slightly more than half of the resident workforce ‘feel safe about returning to the office’ and another ‘two in five are especially wary of working with staff who are unvaccinated’.  

Despite strict Covid-19 measures, only slightly more than half of Singapore’s resident workforce feel safe about returning to the office.
Image source: Unsplash/Grainfalls

Yet, the power to decide whether employees return to the office is still disproportionately relegated to corporate higher-ups. Businesses, eager to get back onto the pre-pandemic grind, have left employees with limited say on where they want to work. 

The Covid-19 crisis has been nothing short of unpredictable. The recent spike in community clusters after weeks of stabilised caseload numbers in Singapore has underscored the fragile state of affairs.

Despite Covid-19 safety procedures and detailed government guidelines, a notable 42% of employees ‘believe that management will not enforce health and safety guidelines like mask wearing and social distancing’, and 54% ‘don’t think building management has taken the necessary steps to keep them safe’. Additionally, given the prolonged nature of the pandemic, employees may feel that their offices (often filled with cramped cubicles and limited shared spaces) are ill-equipped to provide a sufficiently safe and healthy working environment in the long-run. 

Hence, it is understandable why employees would be concerned about contracting the virus from their colleagues when confined to a fixed office building everyday. As illustrated by a Singapore TODAY interviewee, ‘Every day when I was heading into the office, I went with dread — because I didn’t know if the next person to get Covid-19 was going to be me’. Her testimony parallels similar complaints of poor compliance with Covid-19 workplace measures and inadequate disinfection and cleaning rounds.

Every day when I was heading into the office, I went with dread — because I didn’t know if the next person to get Covid-19 was going to be me

TODAY Singapore interviewee

While a return to the pre-pandemic normal may be plausible, the reality is that the pandemic isn’t ending anytime soon. Forcing employees to return to ‘normal’ workplace expectations under these abnormal circumstances might serve as a breaking point for many employees who have serious concerns about their health and safety. Nearly 40% of employees would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work with some making it clear that ‘they’re looking for jobs at companies they feel take the virus seriously, or will let them work from anywhere’

Whether it’s working-from-home or from a well-ventilated workspace nearer to home, businesses should seek to empower employees to choose the work arrangements they’re most comfortable with. When employees feel that their pandemic-related concerns and challenges are being earnestly addressed by the company, their physical and psychological safety is likely to translate to higher productivity and retention rates. 

Empower employees to create work schedules that complement their lifestyles

Whether it’s keeping to a 9-5 workday or working through the night, we all have our preferences when it comes to work hours. For working parents and caregivers, a tailored work schedule is often more of a necessity than a personal preference – balancing their existing work schedules alongside their domestic responsibilities is an uphill challenge faced by such professionals. 

Working parents in particular often need the flexibility to balance work obligations and the needs at home
Image source: Pexels/Ketut Subiyanto

The pandemic has shown us that workplace performance measures don’t have to be limited to in-person check-ins or the amount of time spent at the office. Rather, assessing employees’ ability to accomplish tasks and produce results have proven to result in more efficient and productive teams despite reduced time on-site. 

Managers create a win-win situation when they focus on output-based assessments instead of (counterproductively) measuring in-person office time. On one hand employees feel more engaged with their work when performance is directly linked to the company’s progress toward its goals. 

Managers create a win-win situation when they focus on output-based assessments instead of measuring in-person office time

On the other hand, employees have the flexibility to pace their workload while making time for their needs at home. For example, instead of confining employees to a 9-5 workday at the office, employees could use a few extra hours to pick their kids up from school immediately after clearing off their tasklist for the day. 

Covid-19 has highlighted how closely intertwined work is with our personal lives. Work-life balance is no longer just about having the weekends off or regulated work hours, it’s also about empowering employees to work with businesses to facilitate a more empathetic and rounded relationship with work.

Empower employees to build their an effective flexible work policy

Remote work doesn’t need to be cornered to a narrow definition of ‘working-from-home’. It can still include the familiar perks of a professional workspace such as  weekly team meetings and routine coffee runs throughout the day.

Businesses should take a ground-up approach to building an effective flexible work policy
Image source: Pexels/Alexandar Suhorucov

Employers have been reasonably concerned about the erosion of work culture or the distractions faced at home by employees. The Chief Executive Group reported that 60% of its CEO survey respondents ranked ‘managing culture’ as a primary concern when it came to remote work.

However, given the preference for flexible work and concerns surrounding Covid-19, as explored earlier, it is evident that a calibrated approach is needed to reap the benefits of flexibility while mitigating the social and psychological difficulties of working remotely. 

Businesses should take a ground-up approach to building an effective flexible work policy. Afterall, it’s the employees and teams themselves that are most well-acquainted with the day-to-day scheduling challenges and remote work difficulties faced by workers. 

By empowering employees and their teams to decide on where they want to work and the frequency of team meetings, workers are positioned to adapt the work week to their needs and preferences. Be it a three-day work week or bi-weekly meetings at a coworking workspace in the suburbs, by listening to their employees, businesses are helping to craft a more productive and engaged workforce.

Key Summary

It’s clear what employees want – flexibility and fairness at the workplace. Trying to strong-arm employees back to the pre-pandemic normal is an unsustainable model that workers are willing to boycott. As the global economy picks up, businesses will find themselves gradually competing for talent and innovation. By choosing to empower employees, businesses are signalling their commitment to the new flexible future of work.

About Deskimo

Deskimo is the flexible work platform of choice that helps businesses navigate the new future of work. With us, you and your business can adapt to flexible work, and pay-as-you-go across dozens of spaces in Singapore and Hong Kong. 

Download the app now.

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