From April 26 (this Tuesday) onwards, all employees in Singapore can return to the workplace, instead of the current 75% limit of those who can work from home (WFH).
This is part of the government’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions as the DORSCON (Disease Outbreak Response System Condition) level will be lowered to Yellow from Orange on April 26. This will be the first time it has been lowered since the DORSCON level was raised to Orange on February 7 in 2020.
However, Singapore’s Health Ministry said that employers are encouraged to retain flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting and staggered work hours. And I think employers should continue to do that.
WFH has been the default mode for many office workers ever since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some love WFH and thrived on it, while others prefer working in office as they need face-to-face interaction or need to get away from home.
Both are right in their own ways, and employers should not be preferring one way over the other. I feel flexible working arrangements should be the only way forward, as there is no one-size-fits-all method.
It is like asking a squirrel and a fish to climb the same tree. It sounds equal for all. But a fish will never be a squirrel and it will always feel like an idiot for never being able to climb a tree.
For some, they are more productive WFH as they are not tired from long commutes and are able to better focus on their tasks. Especially for introverts who prefer not to be disturbed by colleagues stopping by their cubicle to chitchat or gossip about the things they do not want to talk about.
On the flip side, there are some who feel isolated WFH. Mostly, the extroverts. They need to talk to somebody in person. No amount of video conferencing can replace the face-to-face human interaction. They love to check out the body language of colleagues and clients, which certainly gives you information that you cannot detect from the flat panel of your laptop.
Not to mention, some employers will forever prefer their employees to work in the confines of their office. Somehow, these bosses have to “see” that their employees are in office. Never mind if these employees are watching K-drama or playing Solitaire at work. To them, if the employees are in office, they must be working.
Or they want their employees to buy into their culture of inclusivity and equality (or whatever buzzword you want to add here). Thus, their employees have to be in office to “feel” immersed in the culture of innovation or whatever.
But this pandemic over the past 2 years has shown us that everything has been moving smoothly (apart from chip shortage) or even better, when most of the employees have been WFH.
There are many studies that prove this. One is the survey by University of Southampton cited in this Forbes report whereby over 90% of the respondents felt their productivity improved or stayed the same while WFH. Another is this study by a group of researchers from Mexico and US whereby they found WFH has lifted productivity in the post-pandemic US economy by 5%.
There are too many such studies to quote. But as this Bloomberg article pointed out, “the pandemic has sped the adoption of robots, artificial intelligence, and other technologies that, in theory, free workers from manual or repetitive tasks to focus on higher-value output.” If the technology is here for use to use, why not?
On the downside, WFH does blur the lines between work and leisure. You might be working on the same computer that you are using to binge watch your favourite Netflix shows. You might be sleeping on the same bed that you spent your waking hours typing emails to your clients.
And yes, the serendipity offered during chitchats at the office pantry can no doubt spark ideas that cannot be replicated in video conferences.
Thus, flexible working arrangements catering to each individual should be the way to go moving forward. Many employees have different roles we are not aware. Some might be caregivers to their ageing parents, some might be have spouses with depression, and some might have their own demons that they are too ashamed to tell.
At the same time, there are those who thrive being a social butterfly in the office connecting everyone. Some might have troubled homes they don’t want to stay a minute longer, some might have neighbours who are forever renovating, and some might not even have a place to call home.
As such, catering to each individual’s working preference is probably the best way to beat The Great Resignation and retain staff. It is always more difficult to onboard a new employee who might not be the best fit in the end, or hire someone when the previous person might still be the perfect hire.
Given the technological capabilities – from the simple email to sophisticated video conferencing tools – of our era, it is almost unfathomable that employees are not given a say in the way they want to work.
Of course, employers can say they will just sack the fish if the task is to climb a tree. But you never know when you need the fish to swim the river in order to get to the big ocean. By then, you might have really miss the big fish.