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5 minute read

Flexible Work Arrangements: Boosting Productivity in Your Existing Workforce

By December 2024, employers in Singapore must have a process in place for workers to make formal requests for flexible work arrangements. Learn more here.

On April 15 this year, the new Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) Requests was unveiled by a tripartite workgroup comprised of representatives from the Government, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), as well as various union, employer, workplace fairness and professional bodies.

In a nutshell, employers must fairly consider and be open to offering flexi-place, flexi-time, and flexi-load arrangements, explained below:

  • Flexi-place arrangements allow employees to choose to work elsewhere from a designated workplace, or have no designated workplace to begin with.
  • Flexi-time arrangements entail staff working flexibly at different timings with no changes to total work hours and workload.
  • Flexi-load arrangements generally are for workers to take up different workloads, with pay adjusted to match.

Of course, as the tripartite workgroup shared, “it must be the employers’ prerogative to decide if (an) FWA for a particular job is viable from a business point of view. That is a key principle that all tripartite partners subscribe to.”

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Flexible work arrangements are ultimately win-win for employers and the job market

While employers will initially have concerns on how to integrate these requests into their operational flow, Minister for State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang previously shared during a dialogue on the topic how FWAs will ultimately also help employers ease their own labour crunches in the long run, especially in a tight hiring market.

Minister Gan said: “Singapore has an ageing population. We know that more and more of us will be caregivers, at some point.”

“It is our duty to create an environment that is supportive so that those people who want to work can continue to work, even while they are managing other family duties at home.”

As it stands, Singaporean employers have come a long way in implementing FWAs, though it has been mainly driven by the compulsory regulations that had to be enforced during the pandemic.

Of course, some business owners who see a co-relation between physical presence and productivity still have doubts on the productivity and effectiveness of FWAs, according to Betul Genc, SVP & Head of ASEAN, Adecco.

She believes that breaking traditional mindsets will be initially challenging. But with time, it would become apparent to them that FWAs is more beneficial in the long run.

“For example, it can be a form of cost-saving initiative, as research from Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has shown that it helps in employee retention, therefore reducing the cost required for recruiting and training of new employees.”

Attracting talent has become increasingly crucial due to the retirement of baby boomers and the entry of the next generation into the workforce, whose expectations of the workplace have evolved. Both current jobseekers and next-generation employees generally hold positive views towards FWAs, as they enable better management of their work-life balance.

“This preference is evident in their strong inclination towards roles that provide such flexibility, which ranks highly among their considerations when selecting jobs,” Betul added.

Factors to consider for companies big and small

As with all things human resource, managing the human dynamic of FWAs will and should be the key priority to keep both employers and employees in alignment.

Managing and tempering expectations when it comes to FWAs is important. Betul revealed that they take this seriously at Adecco, with a comprehensive HR policy which is effectively communicated across the organisation, particularly to middle-level managers, ensuring clarity regarding expectations and guidelines for team engagement.

“This approach mitigates potential misalignment or disparities in team management practices, thereby minimising the risk of employee dissatisfaction,” she said.

In addition, with the reduction in physical interactions due to FWAs, some companies in the marketplace are actively organise team-building activities to foster collaboration remotely.

This can be done in the form of online workshops, or virtual escape rooms where teams must come together online to solve puzzles.

Such activities can help to maintain a sense of connection and teamwork for employees while working home and promote a collaborative work culture.

Of course, in the case of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), their budgets are smaller, and they face slightly different challenges in implementing FWAs.

Betul said: “Their (SMEs) lack of ability to invest in necessary tools or programs required to support FWAs can be a challenge, especially in more resource-constrained companies with employees wearing multiple hats, with some offering work flexibility, while others don’t.”

For companies in this situation, one solution is to leverage on government grants, or look towards adopting free or scaled-down tools that could help to keep their teams connected.

An example of such grants is Enterprise Singapore’s EDG (Enterprise Development Grant), which supports companies looking to upgrade, innovate, grow and transform their businesses.

It funds up to 50% of qualifying project costs for local SMEs, covering third-party consultancy fees, software and equipment, and internal manpower cost.

FWAs can bring win-win outcomes

Ultimately, the key thing is for both employers and employees to take a positive mindset into FWAs and look to achieve win-win outcomes.

Edwin Ng, Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) honorary secretary and one of three co-chairs of the tripartite work group, concluded: “The guidelines are not meant to cast aside the strong work ethic that we have as a country that has got us where we are, and is, in fact, quite the opposite.

“When employers accommodate flexibility, employees have to be flexible too, as businesses evolve.”

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