IBM’s Winning Formula: A Flexible Working Culture

Leading the fast-moving tech industry by pushing work-life culture as a key human resource strategy.

26 Jun 2019 Case studies Work-life harmony Best practices

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IBM Singapore Pte Ltd

IBM is an industry leader in the field of technology. It established its Singapore office over 60 years ago, and cultivated its local work-life heritage starting from employee wellness schemes and eventually evolving into a full-fledged work-life strategy, in line with IBM offices worldwide.


Information and Communications

Employment size

> 370,000 worldwide

Employment profile

Professionals, technical, sales, marketing and administrative staff. There is an even spread of employees across various life stages, with a sizeable group of millennials.

Business Case


At IBM Singapore (IBM), work-life strategy is viewed as a business imperative. The reasons for this are twofold:


  • IBM has shifted away from a product-centric model to a service-centric model focused on newer technology (e.g. cloud platforms and cognitive solutions). This shift places a strong emphasis on attracting and retaining quality talent.
  • Employees work with clients from different countries and time zones, which may involve travelling and conference calls outside of traditional working hours. Clients themselves, have embraced flexible working too.

Thus, the leadership at IBM have embraced flexible work arrangements (FWAs), which enable employees to have sufficient rest and personal time, while still meeting work goals.


Featured Work-Life Programmes


To court the next generation of young professionals and meet evolving client needs, IBM offers a wide range of flexible work options, including:





In order for flexible working to become an entrenched part of the work culture, IBM’s leadership recognises that it needs to take steps beyond merely implementing FWAs. It has refined its implementation strategy to focus on three core areas: adopting a holistic approach, setting the managerial mindset, and creating a positive work-life culture.

“The leadership at IBM have embraced flexible work arrangements (FWAs), which enable employees to have sufficient rest and personal time, while still meeting work goals. At IBM, the work philosophy is, ‘work is what you do, not where you go'."

Adopting a Holistic Approach


IBM has taken a holistic approach to work-life implementation through the following:


  • Effective communication of new policies and processes
  • Onboarding and training programmes to facilitate culture change
  • Regular reviews of job descriptions to keep roles to critical activities
  • Tools to support alternative ways of working (e.g. an internal chat system)


More recently, IBM built the Watson Centre at The Marina Bay. The office space has been designed to facilitate flexible working for its employees, with meeting areas and rooms, and hot desking options.


Setting the Managerial Mindset


As line managers constantly interact with employees and oversee business targets, IBM recognises that they have a significant impact on the success of its work-life strategy.

To partner these key stakeholders, IBM:


  • Empowers managers to approve FWA requests for employees.
  • Equips new managers through an orientation programme which covers IBM’s work-life philosophy, work-life programmes and policies, and how to find a best-fit solution.
  • Provides managers with feedback on their teams’ engagement levels via a bi-annual employee engagement survey.


Once an FWA is approved, line managers work closely with HR to formalise the new working arrangement. At this point, HR may provide details on the employee, make recommendations to refine the new arrangement, or make administrative changes such as payroll or leave entitlement.


Creating a Positive Work-Life Culture


IBM capitalises on its IT expertise to boost work-life culture. Its online Work Life Toolkit serves as a valuable resource for managers and employees alike. The toolkit details IBM’s work-life philosophy, guidelines, policies, programmes and training. It also includes evaluation tools for staff considering FWAs and managers evaluating FWA requests.


The organisation has also cultivated a thriving online community that spans across its offices worldwide. Work-life related blogs, articles and forums are available for employees to exchange ideas and network. Online polling, surveys and media analytic tools are also used to seek employee opinions on work-life issues.




In a competitive market, where hiring and retaining the best talent is a challenge, IBM has successfully differentiated itself on its work-life friendly culture to be an Employer of Choice. IBM enjoys higher employee retention, enhanced productivity, lower absenteeism and improved employee morale. Notably, the organisation is able to hire and retain diverse talent, including back-to-work mothers and persons with disabilities. IBM has also received external recognition for its work life friendly practices, including winning the Singapore Work-Life Excellence Award for 4 consecutive runs of the award (2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014).


The organisation’s healthy work-life culture has become part of its identity, creating a highly engaged and responsive workforce which has translated into higher customer satisfaction and greater employee productivity.