COVID-19 has inevitably changed the way we work. It has shown organisations and workers alike that some form of flexi-work and work-from-home arrangements are increasingly the norm. Even as workplace Covid-19 measures were relaxed last year, the Ministry of Manpower, the NTUC and the Singapore National Employers Federation had called for practices such as working from home and staggered hours at the workplace to be made permanent features. In Parliament this week, NTUC’s Director of U SME and Women & Family Unit Ms Yeo Wan Ling shared on how flexible work arrangements (FWA) have proven to be key to allowing employees achieve better work-life harmony, and how it can promote a more engaged and productive workforce – allowing workers to accomplish their tasks at work while meeting their personal responsibilities at home. For many fulltime working mothers and caregivers for the elderly, it’s indeed the case.
Supports mothers of newborns
Mothers of newborns would know the hassle of having to transport and wash pumps, and bringing breast milk to home. ☹ A ST article reported that FWA was helping mothers breastfeed their babies for longer periods. Before the pandemic, working mothers often found it more challenging to continue nursing their babies after their maternity leave.
Improved work-life balance
The benefits for the employee are evident: from a personal point of view, they can achieve an improved work-life balance. This means more quality time to dedicate to their families, and hobbies with the time spent on commute (well, and extra laundry!). For such arrangements to work well however, it will rely heavily on workers taking the onus and responsibility to do their required work well within reasonable timeframes as well as supervisors who are able to trust their staff and not micromanage them nor think they are slacking off every chance they get. To solve this issue, organisations should move towards an outcome-based performance. This requires high levels of trust and a very collaborative environment were transparency is the norm.
But one challenge with remote working is that even if the staff take advantage of the situation, it would be difficult to prove or for supervisors or HR to hold the staff accountable. On the other end, there have been cases of women with caregiving responsibilities being discriminated against and passed over when it comes to promotion.
“Flexible work arrangements can be a way to bring and retain our women in the workforce, and more must be done to ensure workplace support becomes the norm for all workers.” Ms Yeo Wan Ling, Director of U SME and Women & Family Unit, NTUC
While implementing some of the flexible working options might be tricky from a management point of view, especially when it comes to controlling and assessing productivity, it may be worth an organisation’s while. Continuing with these work policies can help companies attract talent and help employers tap a larger pool of manpower, some of whom may need some time to take care of their dependants. These are the valuable manpower resources that would have had to drop out of the workforce otherwise.
It’s a balance
At the end of the day, flexible work and work-from-home arrangements are definitely good to some extent as it gives workers some flexibility when they need to juggle different responsibilities. However, there is a need to balance it with time spent in the office where it is more conducive for collaboration, communication and instilling organisational culture. For alternate work arrangements to be effective, it also takes effort on both the side of the workers as well as the organisation to build trust and channels for communication and accountability.
In Parliament this week, the Labour Movement has sought clarifications from MOM on how it attempts to encourage more companies to continue to embrace flexible work arrangements, and in particular, job and culture redesign to support women with caregiving responsibilities stay in their jobs or return to the workforce seamlessly after a hiatus in their careers. One thing is for sure, new workplace norms are here to stay, and the calls for flexible work arrangements are getting louder.