The Future Workplace with easing of Covid-19 curbs

From the Straits Times

SINGAPORE - On Thursday (Aug 19), Singapore will ease restrictions, giving companies the green light to bring more staff back to the office.

Even so, most employers - including Singapore's largest, the Government - expect hybrid working arrangements to be a permanent feature of the post-pandemic world.

"The Public Service is working towards supporting greater work flexibility in the post-Covid new normal," a Public Service Division spokesman told The Straits Times.

"This will go towards meeting the needs of officers and, at the same time, balancing organisational needs."

Two weeks ago, the multi-ministerial task force tackling the pandemic announced that working from home would no longer be the default from Aug 19.

Instead, up to 50 per cent of employees able to work remotely would be allowed back to the office. This has not been the case since May 8.

Companies had scrambled to make hybrid work possible - sometimes haphazardly - when Covid-19 first arrived in Singapore last year.

But after more than a year of such arrangements, most firms and their staff seem to have found a rhythm.

Law firm Dentons Rodyk said it plans to allow employees a fixed number of work-from-home days each week, with more flexible reporting times.

At the same time, it is considering making social and cohesion activities mandatory, given that working in the office may not be compulsory.

"This is to ensure the culture of our firm - one of familial cohesion and camaraderie - does not erode with the hybrid work model," said Mr Loh Kia Meng, the firm's chief operating officer.

The law firm is also planning to implement a "buddy system" to foster greater engagement between colleagues and engage a professional counselling agency to help support staff's mental well-being.

Other companies, including DBS and security provider Certis, said they are redesigning their workspaces to reflect a growing priority - collaboration.

But both acknowledged the positives of working from home, with DBS saying it plans to give all employees the flexibility to work from home up to 40 per cent of the time.

Food and facilities management firm Sodexo, which helps companies implement return-to-work incentives, added that many employers are experimenting with different ideas.

These range from providing relatively basic perks such as free snacks and office meals, to more elaborate solutions like having baristas in the office once a week.

"These incentives support employee engagement, allowing people to re-establish social connections they might have lost over the past 18 months," said Ms Jessica Carr, managing director of Sodexo's in-house workplace consultancy Wx.

A thing to keep in mind is that employees will likely have varying preferences for returning to the office, observed Mr Lee Yun-Han, director of human capital consulting at Deloitte Southeast Asia.

He added that younger workers or caregivers, for example, are likely to be in favour of the flexibility that remote working enables.

"Companies need to have flexibility in processes and policies to cater to both ends of the spectrum," he said. "The option to work from home... will become one of the key aspects in attracting and retaining talent."

No matter the arrangements, employers will have to walk the talk.

If spurring collaboration is cited as the main reason for having workers return to the office, the physical space and working style should be redesigned to reflect this, said Ms Jaya Dass, managing director for Singapore and Malaysia at recruitment firm Randstad Singapore.

She suggested updating human resource policies to reflect the new work conditions and conducting regular employee surveys to understand how employees feel about the new model of doing things.

"Employees who come back to the office only to find that they are reverting to old ways of working will be curious to find out what collaboration means to them," she added.

Article by the Straits Times:


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