Will you make remote work a permanent policy?

Singapore firms are more accepting of flexi-work after their experiences in 2020 – are you ready to adopt it formally?

Will you make remote work a permanent policy?

Employers in Singapore may have finally warmed up to the idea of providing flexible or remote work arrangements, following their experience through 2020. The pandemic had resulted in widespread implementation of flexi-work, something that’s been encouraged for years by many, including the government, but was viewed with a level of scepticism by local companies.

It’s thus been promising to see that about a third of jobs (35%) posted last year were for roles that can be done remotely, according to a recent report by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The annual Job Vacancies 2020 report released early this month showed that the remote jobs were mostly targeted at PMET candidates.

What’s more, MOM found that around half of employers are providing formal teleworking arrangements. This is the first time the figure is being tracked in the annual report, pointing to a clear shift in demand of remote jobs from employees.

Read more: Jobseekers on the hunt for remote work

MOM found that managerial and administrative jobs were most promoted (71%) as having remote capabilities across companies, as this group mainly consisted of positions involved in planning, directing and evaluating such as business development managers. This was followed by “professionals” (62%), especially roles in IT like applications or system programmers and cybersecurity specialists.

While 35% of jobs that can be done remotely may seem like a small figure, the study stated that most other roles tracked either required physical interaction with customers, like medical or healthcare jobs, or an onsite presence due to the need for equipment like engineers. They also found that almost all non-PMET positions, such as retail sales or workers in the construction or logistics sectors, were not suitable for a remote arrangement – only 6% of such roles were suitable, said MOM.

Regardless, this is promising for a country that has no statutory right for an employee to request a flexible working arrangement. Singapore merely has guidelines for flexi-work, with MOM and their partners encouraging employers to implement some form of the arrangement as part of ‘progressive’ employment practices.

Read more: HR to push for a 'permanent' remote work policy

“Flexi-work is an issue we think about a lot, but unfortunately in the Singapore context we talk about it a lot in theory,” said Goh Seow Hui, partner at Bird & Bird ATMD. This is unlike countries like Australia, South Korea, UK or the US, where employees have a legal right to request it without having to justify it with reasons like familial responsibilities.

However, the experience employment lawyer acknowledged that many companies here have been more accepting or are at least addressing requests for flexi work, albeit on ad-hoc basis. With this, comes the need to figure out what’ll work best for your organisation as well as consider establishing formal policies that also covers critical points like what is expected of a remote employee, and whether their home office is safe and secure for their job roles.

Read more: Singapore: More employees may return to work

“Putting aside the lockdown period where it was kind of mandatory by direction of the Singapore government, going forward we foresee that the incidence of requests to work remotely will go up,” she told HRD. “The question is about how employers want to approach this as a matter of company policy.

“Again, flexi-work already existed as a concept pre-COVID. So whether you want to make it as of right to employees, that means if they requested it and the employer is able to accommodate it, the business will accommodate it, or you want to make it more elective. Here, the company gets to choose which employees it wishes to offer flexi-work. In that sense, companies have more discretion in the process because you decide which business units are more suitable for remote working and then offer it up to them accordingly.”

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