Across Asia, companies are experimenting with changes in the workplace. The experimentation is about offering choice and flexibility to employees as we progress towards a post-Covid environment. The trialing of different options helps to answer two central questions:
- What works best for both employees and their employers?
- What benefits can we achieve during this process of change?
Of course, there is no ‘one size fits all.’ When answering these questions, we need to be cognizant of the complexity of the Asia/Pacific region, which necessitates multiple solutions for different geographies. At recent IMA Asia CEO and Management Forums in Singapore, we grappled with these issues. Members identified the challenges in the post-Covid recovery, discussed how they planned to address them, and offered suggestions on ways forward.
For some, working from home becomes the norm
In the past, few companies made deliberate efforts to develop a culture wherein working from home (WFH) was widely accepted. COVID has changed that. Working from home has now become the norm for most companies.
‘We moved from pre-Covid time when 97% of our work was from the office to today’s situation, where 95% of our people are working from home. We found that our workforce does not have to always be in the office to be productive. As long as there is tech support, people are still productive while working from the comfort of their homes.’
Still, working from home may not be appropriate for all markets. Diverse employee experiences during COVID emerged due to differences in hierarchical levels, nature of work, home life, size and age of family and a host of other personal and work-related issues. Companies have found they must be thoughtful in considering these differences when they consider changes to the nature of work.
‘During COVID, our Vietnamese team needed to come into the office because they didn’t have conditions at home conducive to work. Due to lockdowns, our Indonesian and Filipino colleagues were unable to go to the office at all.’
Plus, in some markets, corporate leaders needed to be cognizant of political sensitivities related to working from home.
‘If the government is encouraging you to go to the office, we don’t want to be sending a different signal saying that you have the flexibility to work from home.’
The ‘hybrid’ solution
Working from home need not be an ‘either or’ decision. Most firms have a ‘hybrid arrangement’ where employees come to the office a few days a week.
‘We have a global policy that allows individuals in every market to designate two days a week that they will work from home. In Asia, we decided to keep it truly flexible. Each market can decide how to apply the policy based on individual needs.’
Companies are learning through experimentation with hybrid arrangements and gradually finding the solutions that work best for them.
‘We’ve started to see that there is a bit of a sweet spot at around one to two days working from home. We discovered that people’s levels of engagement, empowerment, and fulfillment rose by about 13%.’
Technology, flexibility and trust
The new approaches to work also rely heavily on technology, especially technologies that promote empowerment, collaboration, and innovation.
‘New technologies enable us to manage a company through more iterative, validated experiments on what good solutions best fit. We’ve seen a huge amount of digital-transformation-based productivity tools. We have many people who would never have touched Teams or set up a WebEx, who now are using digital whiteboards.’
Yet, even the best digital tools will never be enough. A remote working model will not succeed without a high level of trust between employer and employee. Developing such trust is dependent on transparency.
‘An environment of trust is established when a leader is clear and consistent in communication, authenticity, and decision-making. If an employee comes to me with a problem, and I deal with it in a trustworthy and consistent way and am authentic in my messaging, you will come back to me and ask for advice again.’
Click on ‘Deep Read’ at the top of the page to read more about the Future of Work. Included in the full paper is a checklist of advice from Asia corporate leaders on how best to manage the challenges of the future workplace.