Gaining the Flexibility Edge - 9 Simple Questions to Ask

How can employers and HR effectively evaluate the work-from-home experience for their businesses?

27 May 2020 Articles Work-life harmony Trending Best practices

As the country contends with the COVID-19 virus, many workplaces in Singapore have adopted work-from-home arrangements since the earlier part of this year in a bid to maintain safe social distancing. Over the past few months,employees have set up personal workspaces at home, learnt to use new digital tools and navigated the integration of their work and home lives.

There appears to be a consensus that telecommuting and flexible work arrangements are the new norm. A survey by Engage Rocket, the Institute for Human Resources Professionals and the Singapore Human Resources Institute found that 8 in 10 employees expressed an interest in continuing to work from home after the circuit breaker period.

This nation-wide experience can be viewed as a valuable ‘pilot period’ for employers who had not implemented telecommuting in their companies, prior to the Covid-19 situation. These are the essential factors that employers should consider as they evaluate the business benefits of flexible working for their companies.

#1: Level of Agility

An organisation’s effectiveness can be measured by how rapidly it responds to the needs of customers. In this challenging period,employers are faced with the twin challenges of ensuring operational efficiency even as employees work from home and addressing the changing needs of their clients.

There are everyday examples all around us of how quickly companies adapt in these circumstances; in the real estate industry, housing agents have turned to virtual tours and online conferencing to conduct client meetings and close sales, doctors offer video consultations, email prescriptions and provide home delivery for medication, and even training providers are converting face-to-face talks and workshops into online versions to keep their customer base.

Three key questions for employers to ask themselves as their staff work from home are:

  • How well has the company maintained its overall responsiveness to business needs?
  • How easily has the company adapted to new requests from stakeholders such as customers?
  • How quickly are problems/challenges surfaced to supervisors and team leaders?

Response time to enquiries, frequency of communication with internal and external stakeholders and feedback from customers are useful metrics to evaluate how well a company performs even as employees work flexibly.

#2: Process Refinement

One useful exercise for companies in this period has been the streamlining of work processes. In the usual office set up, workflows can be carried out without giving much thought to refinements that make them more efficient – have you encountered employees who say, “We’ve always done it this way.”? The shift to working from home disrupts this complacency, and forces teams to consider whether a specific step or process is necessary to achieve the intended end-result. For example, you may have noticed that some teams may have fewer meetings, thus freeing up time for work that requires more concentration and deeper thinking. Without the convenience of having a supervisor readily available, employees may now step up to make decisions to complete work more efficiently.

Here supervisors can examine:

  • What work processes have been dropped for greater efficiency while working from home?
  • What processes have teams initiated to facilitate better communication and collaboration efforts?
  • Have employees proactively made decisions on a task or project, instead of waiting for directions? How can employees be empowered to continue this process post-Covid?

#3: Employee Support Systems

Employee preparedness is a significant factor in the successful implementation of flexible working arrangements. Most employers will be able to identify two camps of employees in their workforce; those who enjoy working from home and a second group who can’t wait to get back to the office! While such polarised responses aren’t unusual as every individual has their own preferred working style, employers should take this opportunity to assess how readily their workforce can transition to a flexible working arrangement when needed.

HR can take this opportunity to solicit employee feedback on their work-from-home experience and identify how employees can be supported when they work flexibly. Some areas to probe include:

  • What were the challenges that employees faced when working from home?
  • What were the positives of working from home for employees?
  • Did employees feel like they could work efficiently from home?

An anonymous employee survey may garner useful insights on refining the existing telecommuting policy and how the company can empower staff to do their best work – even away from the traditional office set up.

As Singapore makes greater strides into flexible working, this is an opportune time for employers to fully examine how flexible work arrangements can be leveraged to future-proof their businesses and help them maintain stability even through economic uncertainties.