When Singapore’s circuit breaker took effect on April 7th, 2020, all non-essential businesses that could function with work-from-home operations were required to telecommute. However, many businesses that made up the Singapore workforce had changed the work model and begun working from home either partially or fully from the beginning of the year, when COVID-19 cases began surfacing in the country and well before WHO had declared the illness a pandemic. In response, companies and organizations across the country have had to rapidly adapt to working from home, adopting a range of online collaboration tools along the way.
Opinions among the Singapore workforce itself are varied and wide-ranging, as employees take into account the unique challenges of working in a world where COVID-19 is very much still a factor, alongside their job expectations, work model and challenges moving forward.
To unravel the complexities of the current working environment, we asked over 400 employees in Singapore about their experiences of hybrid and remote working since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Covering everything from work preferences to perceptions of their personal performance, the results highlight insights that could help employers to better support their remote workforce (full methodology is available at the bottom of the article).
New work model: Work from home is here to stay—but to what extent?
The government announced that employees may return to office from 28 September 2020 onwards, highlighting that work from home remain the default arrangement. Companies which took the government up on the return to office could only access offices for half their working time or less—in line with the survey results that show almost half of the respondents (46%) who continue to work remotely 2-3 times a week.
In the meantime, nearly a third of the workforce (31%) are working remotely on a fulltime basis since the start of the pandemic.
The results suggest that working from home is here to stay post-COVID. Asked how they would prefer to work after the end of the pandemic, the most popular response (41%) noted agreement with the current arrangement of working remotely 2-3 times a week.
That’s not to say that people are thrilled to embrace work in pyjamas forever— less than 1 in 4 respondents felt this way. However, more than 60% of respondents aged over 26 to 45 have expressed interest to work remotely in some capacity heading forward.
COVID-19 is not just changing the way we work—it is also impacting where we choose to live. With flexible working arrangements may come greater flexibility in living arrangements. 50% of Singapore-based workers said they would consider moving further away from the office. This could benefit employers, widening the potential talent tool when scouting new hires.
Hybrid work fuels feelings of productivity
For many firms, the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis meant work-from-home arrangements rolled out at speed and scale. Now, as the practice becomes more integrated with Singapore’s work practices, it is important companies optimise their approach so staff receive adequate support when they are working out of the office.
When asked about performance, the most popular response (34%) highlighted that hybrid working has a positive impact on personal performance. However, a significant number of employees (24%) observed better performance when working remotely. Employers will need to rethink what support looks like for a divided workforce in the future, exploring how technology can support this less traditional approach to work.
Looking beyond the volume of work they are able to complete when working remotely, the vast majority of employees believe it has a positive impact on the quality of their output. 88% reported that they are satisfied with the quality of their work when remote working, versus just 12% who are dissatisfied.
Work-life balance and new work models steps into the national spotlight
On 17 November 2020, a tripartite advisory in Singapore highlighted concerns that many in the country’s workforce had harboured for months: a dip in mental wellbeing that could also impact quality of work. While promoting adequate mental wellness programmes and training for managers and human resources personnel in the office, the advisory also laid out a need for employees to have adequate rest outside work hours, pointing to a difficulty in work-life balance brought on in part by shifting work arrangements.
Despite a widespread acceptance of WFH arrangements, there is one issue that remains a challenge for staff—maintaining boundaries between home life and the world of work. When asked if they had managed to set healthy work-life boundaries for themselves, a significant number of respondents (41%) had failed to do so or had only minimally established boundaries:
- 21% of respondents had set no boundaries
- 20% had minimally established boundaries
- 43% moderately established boundaries
- 16% had completely established boundaries.
Similarly, 41% of those surveyed have experienced difficulties establishing work-life boundaries with family or housemates, 37% with their direct manager, and 34% with their team.
This struggle to set and maintain boundaries may be partially responsible for another trend revealed by the survey: Most employees feel pressured to clock in more hours at home than they did when they were working in the office.
Employees face new challenges in a remote work environment
Respondents confirmed a range of issues were presenting them with challenges on a regular basis. The most prominent challenges include:
- Getting work calls before and/or after work hours (45%)
- Working more hours than standard (43%)
- Quick-turnaround assignments that require after hours or weekend work (39%)
- Pressure to answer emails on weekends (34%)
- Use of personal devices (laptop/phone) for work functions (31%)
- Family members or housemates not respecting time and/or work space (29%)
- Difficulty keeping secure information private due to sharing of space with family/housemates (13%)
Finding ways to address these issues for employees would go a long way to addressing the issue of work life balance.
31% of employees find their home offices lacking
GetApp’s survey results suggest a significant proportion of the Singapore workforce needs additional support from their employer to better adapt to working from home.
We asked respondents if they considered their home office setup sufficient to ensure productivity when working remotely. The majority (67%), said they have everything they require. However, 31% said they need a more comprehensive home office environment to work effectively.
Respondents also shared personal tips for effective remote working. Many focused on the need to both establish clear work-life routines and boundaries and communicate these to the people around them, both personally and professionally. These boundaries included keeping regular, non-excessive work hours and taking regular breaks.
Employees, particularly those at mid-level, require greater training support
Businesses may also need to look at providing training to help employees adapt to the new ways of working and how to make the most out of remote work software. 42% of the respondents expressed that this kind of training would help them better adapt to working out of the office.
The desire for training was especially pronounced among mid-level employees. Alongside concerns about excessive work hours, these training would need to be integrated into regular work hours.
Communications is an important area to focus on when designing training programmes for remote working. Almost a quarter (24%) of employees expressed dissatisfaction with team communications while working remotely. Likewise, one in five (20%) were dissatisfied with the quality of communication they had received from their managers.
Data for this study was collected in November 2020 from an online survey of 400 respondents that live in Singapore.
To participate in the survey, respondents had to be:
- Employed full-time or part-time, or self-employed
- Working for a company with at least two people
- Working remotely sometimes or all the time since COVID-19.