According to RGF International Recruitment, 61% of Singaporean employees intend to continue flexible work beyond the pandemic, with 65% considering it a key factor for work-life harmony. A Straits Times survey also found that 8 in 10 workers prefer flexible working arrangements.
Beyond our shores, the ‘hybrid’ trend is even more dominant. The Business Times reports that a whopping 88% of workers in Asia-Pacific favour hybrid work, while 82% of global companies intend to retain a hybrid workforce even after the pandemic, and nearly half (47%) will allow employees to work remotely full-time.
What are ‘Hybrid’ Work Models?
A hybrid work model need not be binary i.e., employees work either from home or office; it can also be a combination of both. This depends on factors such as industry, nature of work, and organisation size. Some organisations have or plan to have fixed office days for face-to-face meetings or employee onboarding, others have split teams or staggered schedules, while some give employees flexibility to choose their work location.
The banking sector in Singapore for instance is introducing flexi-work as a permanent feature beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. UOB has instituted a two-day work-from-home policy, allowing employees to manage their work based on where they can be most effective. Similarly, DBS provides the option to work remotely up to 40% of the time, and will launch a Living Lab which blends physical and virtual workspace configurations to facilitate discussions and cross-team collaborations.
On the other hand, HSBC offers three work arrangements based on job roles – office workers are permanently office-based due to compliance reasons or the need to be client-facing, flexible office workers are primarily office-based and may work from home one to two days per week, while flexible home workers have a fixed schedule that is at least 50% work-from-home.
Tech industry leaders are also adopting such policies. For instance, Google has announced a flexible workweek pilot where employees will spend at least three days in the office on “collaboration days” and work from home the rest of the week.
Such work arrangements bring about benefits such as faster decision-making, increased productivity, and higher employee satisfaction. However, this is only possible if they are well managed. Here are some key success factors to help you build a sustainable hybrid work model.
Redesign processes and infrastructure
Hybrid work models require clarity about job roles to determine which tasks are best suited to be done in the office, and which can be done remotely. Some considerations include:
- Do employees really need to check-in and out of the office for work?
- Can certain work processes be modified/redesigned to allow remote working and hybrid teams?
- Is the necessary digital and physical infrastructure in place to support a hybrid work arrangement?
Technology such as cloud storage and collaboration applications can be a great enabler, allowing employees to access critical resources and continue co-creating solutions while working remotely. In some cases, it can even be applied in creative ways – a mining company in China utilises remote-controlled 5G-enabled vehicles and machinery to allow miners to work from home, despite it being a role typically performed on-site.
However, technology and digital upskilling need to go hand-in-hand. Employees must be reskilled to use the tools and technology to aid their work, and be trained to be conscious of data security while accessing classified information remotely.
The physical layout of the office may also be reworked to allow onsite workers to participate in both physical and virtual meetings. This may mean creating smaller meeting rooms and huddle spaces equipped with room booking systems.
Build trust at work
Beyond refining the infrastructure, the ‘soft elements’ also need to be transformed for a sustainable hybrid workforce. Employers and managers need to consider:
- What are the norms, rules and expectations around work?
- Are employees’ work outcomes or the number of hours clocked more important?
To avoid potential pitfalls, a culture that hinges on trust and results-orientation is required.
As key facilitators of the hybrid work model, managers need to be trained to empower employees, delegate work with clear expectations, and provide ample support and guidance. Some managers may feel a lack of control and tend to micromanage by constantly tracking employees’ online activity or work hours. Such gestures could cause undue pressure and cultivate a counter-productive culture of presenteeism. Instead, managers need to learn to trust that their employees are putting in their best even when working remotely and focus on work deliverables. One effective way to supervise employees would be to schedule regular one-to-one conversations or group check-ins to get work updates.
To help managers better manage a hybrid team, organisations can:
- Establish a clear hybrid work arrangement policy that could be adapted from an existing telecommuting policy regarding working hours and expectations during work hours, and communicate this clearly to all employees.
- Adopt an appraisal system that is fair and objective, with measurable standards for evaluating job performance (e.g. project outcomes and completion of deliverables).
Create an inclusive work environment
With employees working in different locations and different times, managers are critical in ensuring that no one gets left behind. Besides work progress check-ins, managers should provide safe platforms to allow all employees to raise issues or contribute their views.
Good managers will also create environments that foster inclusiveness, strengthen employee relationships and bridge the physical divide between those working remotely and those working onsite. Conscious efforts would be required to create opportunities for interaction, through cross-team collaborations and bonding activities such as virtual happy hours, coffee catch-ups and brown bag sessions.
There is no one-size-fits all hybrid work model. To implement a sustainable arrangement, organisations need to first establish its objective (e.g. to attract and retain talent), assess the organisation’s and employees’ needs (e.g. through surveys), then identify a suitable model. Pilot this model with a proportion of employees and make adjustments along the way before rolling it out to the whole organisation.
Refer to TAFEP’s Telecommuting Guide for more information on how to implement a sustainable telecommuting arrangement. This guide includes important considerations and best practices, as well as examples from Singapore-based organisations on how they have introduced telecommuting in response to Covid-19 and/or embedded it as a part of their overall human resource strategy.
This article is contributed by TAFEP.