Workplace flexibility a top priority for candidates

It has been more than three years since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. People around the world went through national lockdowns and mobility restrictions; they had to work from home for extended periods, and many spent a lot of time outside of the office because offices had to be closed.

From that, companies learned how to implement hybrid working arrangements and exercised flexibility for employees working from home. As the pandemic moves to the endemic stage globally, some organisations decided to get people back in the office, while others continued with hybrid work arrangements.

It is not flexible if it is defined. – Nilay Khandelwal, Managing Director, Michael Page Singapore

Many companies are looking to revert back to their pre-pandemic days. But the world has changed. People do not want to be ordered back into the office. They want to go to the office when they want to, and when there is a good reason to do so, and not because someone higher up the food chain has instructed them to do so.

In fact, some 905 respondents to our Talent Trends 2023 Report ‘The Invisible Revolution’ have ranked flexibility as the No. 2 most important motivator for factors that attract them to join a new company, with No. 1 being salary. Last year, flexibility was ranked at no. 5, indicating that flexibility is now on everyone’s mind.

Related: 2023 Singapore Salary Guide: Salaries you should be paying your talent

Flexibility has become a universal right, not a privilege

The three years of pandemic living have demonstrated that work is not more important than one’s personal life.

The three years of pandemic living have demonstrated that work is not more important than one’s personal life. People’s priority has shifted – they now prioritise work-life balance even more.

The concept of work-life balance changed from a largely intangible and hypothetical conversation before the pandemic to an undeniable aspect of everyday life. And it is a factor that affects everyone, from junior-level professionals to those at the C-suite level.

“I had a VP-level candidate who wanted to block off an hour from 4pm every day for time with his child. For them, it is more work-life integration than work-life balance. They view personal responsibilities and professional responsibilities with equal importance, so when hiring senior-level executives, companies need to tailor solutions according to the candidates’ personal interests, situations, and industries,” says Angela Y Yang, Partner at Page Executive Singapore, sourcing senior-level executives for the Healthcare and Life Sciences sector.

The pandemic has also shown us that work can be done outside of the office, and employees can still be productive.

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Advantages of workplace flexibility:

  • Improved work-life balance: Flexibility can enable employees to better manage their personal commitments, leading to reduced stress and increased job satisfaction.
     
  • Increased productivity and engagement: When individuals have control over their work arrangements, they are more likely to be motivated, engaged, and productive.
     
  • Expanded talent pool: Offering flexible work options can attract a wider range of candidates, including those who may have constraints preventing them from pursuing traditional 9-to-5 roles.
     
  • Cost savings: Flexible work arrangements can reduce overhead costs, such as office space requirements, commuting expenses, and employee turnover.

“Flexible work is here to stay,” says Nilay Khandelwal, Managing Director, Michael Page Singapore. “It boils down to the trust created in the last three years of hybrid work. Culture gets created on the back of becoming comfortable with that model.”

It is a complex problem with no easy solution, as the feasibility of remote work is dependent not only on an individual’s personality and personal circumstances but also on the sector and role. Depending on the job scope and industry, employers need to consider flexibility as part of the employee experience.

  Download our Talent Trends 2023 Report here!

Challenges of implementing flexibility at the workplace:

  • Organisational culture and mindset: Many companies still struggle to embrace a culture of flexibility, often due to concerns about accountability, communication, and team collaboration in remote or flexible work environments.
     
  • Managerial support and training: Managers play a crucial role in implementing and supporting workplace flexibility. However, some may lack the necessary skills or training to effectively manage remote teams or provide guidance in a flexible work setting.
     
  • Technology infrastructure: Adequate technological infrastructure and tools are essential for seamless remote collaboration and communication. Organisations need to ensure that employees have access to reliable and secure technology platforms.
     
  • Inequality and access: Workplace flexibility may not be equally accessible to all employees, particularly those in lower-income jobs or industries that require in-person presence. Addressing these disparities and providing equitable flexibility options is an important consideration.

    Openness to flexibility is vital for employees who cannot work out of the office. For instance, it might not be practical for someone responsible for running a factory to expect to work from home. However, that person can request more flexible hours.

Related: How to attract talent in a candidate-short market

Some findings on flexibility from our Talent Trends 2023 Report:

  • 88% of respondents with no managerial responsibilities said that hybrid working is the most important aspect of flexibility, and at the same time, 86% of respondents in their 50s feel the same way.
     
  • 80% of employees with senior-level managerial responsibilities said flexible working hours are most important, and 70% of parents feel the same way.

The findings from our talent trends report show that flexibility requirements do not just come from one category of employees – everyone wants flexibility at work.

“Flexibility has to be customised to individuals, and it also depends on the industry. Some people love going to the office, while others don’t. It also depends on your work environment. For instance, in Hong Kong, everyone goes to the office because homes are small. The important thing is to have a choice. It is not flexible if it is defined. Everyone views employee engagement differently and relates to flexibility differently,” adds Khandelwal.

Organisations that embrace flexibility, instead of simply tolerating it, as a good business strategy will have significantly better retention rates.

People don’t want hard and fast rules regarding flexibility — they want your trust to make the right decisions. Retaining talent will improve with adaptive flexibility policies that target individual needs rather than one-size-fits-all policies.

Using benefits like hybrid work as a selling point will not stand out to prospective talent unless a company’s approach to flexibility is holistic and end-to-end.

Since good work-life balance is a non-negotiable expectation for today’s talent, this makes an excellent opportunity for employers to refine flexibility to provide an outstanding employee experience.

Related: The highest paying jobs in Singapore for 2022

Embracing flexible work

Working from home or anywhere outside the office allows our employees to spend more time with their families and take care of their well-being

One company that has fully embraced a flexible way of working is Heineken Vietnam. “Working from home or anywhere outside the office allows our employees to spend more time with their families and take care of their well-being,” shares Le Qui Don, Human Resources Director, Heineken Vietnam.

“At the same time, some of our employees still want to come into the office some of the time as nothing can replace the joy of true togetherness. This can be attributed to the social nature of human beings, and it also happens to be a part of our purpose and DNA at Heineken Vietnam.”

The hybrid working model was trialled at its head office in Ho Chi Minh City at the start of 2022, and the company is now making preparations for the same model to be rolled out nationwide. 

Heineken Vietnam has also made improvements to the interiors of its head office to create a more conducive working environment. It now offers flexi-desks, and chairs with good lumbar support and configured its spaces for better collaboration.

Related: How to improve your work-life balance in 2023

Now is the time for bold, people-first moves

While other companies lament offering flexibility for their employees, others are getting ahead of the curve.

Indonesian peer-to-peer lending platform Alami has chosen to go against the grain, having put in place a four-day workweek since October 2021.

Alami’s CEO, Dima Djani, said that the company wanted to give employees more time to spend with family, pursue hobbies, or participate in faith-based activities.

The impact of this was immediate. After starting the four-day workweek at the beginning of October 2021, the company closed the month with a 40% increase in monthly disbursements, from US$ 7 million to US$10 million, proving that a shorter workweek can do wonders for productivity.

Djani says that putting in place a four-day workweek has led to teams coming up with more creative ways to work, such as collaborating asynchronously to accommodate teammates working in different time zones.

Since news of Alami’s four-day workweek went viral, the company has seen unexpected payoffs in other ways: It received over 4,000 job applications in less than two months. If anything, this is evidence that companies willing to take bold steps to change the way they work will also be more effective at attracting talent.

Related: How to create a great employee experience – in the office or at home

Employees don’t just want flexibility; they want autonomy

For companies and their leaders to succeed with workplace flexibility, Anthony Thompson, Regional Managing Director, Asia Pacific at PageGroup says it empowers employees to decide how and when they want to work. “One of the misconceptions about hybrid work is that everyone wants to work from home. More than ever, what employees want now is to have a choice.

“Leaders and managers will need to communicate regularly to find out what works best for individuals and teams,” he emphasises.   

He said he expects to see most APAC markets adopt a blended approach to work. “I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the office. We’re seeing many people who want to be back in the office and having that interaction again,” he noted.

Read more:
How to manage a remote team effectively 
How HR needs to evolve to support the future of work
The importance of good communication in the workplace

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