In Focus
HR & EDUCATION | Staff Reporter, Singapore

Flexible, costlier staff arrangements needed as “new normal” kicks in

HR firms highlight the importance of employees’ mental well-being.

As the circuit breaker period gradually comes to an end, Singapore companies are beginning to bring back their workforce to the office. Firms started doing staggered and rotational shifts either a couple of days a week per employee to practice social distancing measures whilst some continue to work from home.

In Bain & Company’s study, many CEOs reported that the lockdown has been liberating as organisations have changed their systems so that they can continue serving customers. “We expect to see continued large investments in digitalisation and working from home tools and equipment, much greater flexibility on remote working, greater empathy and attention to mental wellbeing and understanding of other pressures in employees' lives outside work,” said Rob Bryson, managing director, Robert Walters Singapore.

HR firms particularly noted that employees’ mental and emotional well-being should be their main focus as they transition back to working in the offices.

“One of the factors to consider in Singapore is that employers need to understand their employees are actually keen to come back and I think that you will find people who are not mentally ready to come back and work from an office. I think organisations in Singapore need to acknowledge and be ready for that,” said Nilay Khandelwal, managing director of Michael Page Singapore

Some employees are either concerned about their own safety or the safety of their loved ones. Working parents also have additional responsibilities, especially when their children might be doing home-based learning in the early weeks.

Further, many employees have found it hard to draw the line between work and personal, and may have struggled with juggling both. Many also felt isolated and finding it hard to communicate and collaborate between teams, clients, and suppliers.

This requires companies to be flexible, empathetic, and putting additional effort into reaching out to their employees. Managers and leaders as well should adapt to a new way of managing their teams to speak to their employees about their concerns.

Some companies are found offering employees support and expert advice which focuses on mental health and wellbeing, as people working from home experience a lot of anxiety.

Regional Director for Hays in Singapore, Grant Torrens explains that employers should not place pressure on employees to come back to work, or to be forced to deny coming back into the office, highlighting the importance of communication between the company and staff.

“Communication is Key”

Ensuring that employees can come back to work effectively requires a lot of pre-planning and preparation both for the employers and employees themselves. Hays’ Torrens notes that preparing a step-by-step guide that shows what will happen and communicating it to the company is the most important.

Everyone should understand what is going to be involved in making the office a safe place to return to including cleaning, sanitising, making sure that personal protection equipment (PPE) is available, and following safe distancing guidelines.

In some cases, offices may not have enough space for social distancing or an area that will allow them to operate at a safe distance, giving more reason for some to continue to work from home.

For those employees, most companies would have either a working from home or information communication policy in place, outlining the procedures and the policies that employees need to follow to secure privileged data and protect their business in general.

“Companies need to ensure that their communication to and with staff is exemplary, particularly during this transition, to ensure minimal confusion and assure employees that the transition back to the workplace has been well-planned and thought through,” said Robert Walters’ Bryson.

Pricier arrangements

Additional expenses are expected for companies as they step up their efforts to ensure that employees can return to work in a safe environment. “Many offices will obviously have cleaning personnel, but they're going to have to enhance that by disinfecting all those high touched areas multiple times a day, so that will no doubt probably incur additional costs as well,” said Hays’ Torrens.

Some companies are also providing shuttles for their employees to come back to work so that they can avoid public transport.

Michael Page’s Khandelwal notes that companies should cover any extra expenses to make sure employees can keep up to their efficiencies. They can also hold small group sessions with various people to ensure that people stay connected across the wide business instead of a large town hall setting.

“Companies have also gotten the chance to trial remote and flexible working setups in the past few months, and can make an informed decision on whether it is suitable for them,” Robert Walters’ Bryson added.

By: Janine Ballesteros

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