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Designing employment systems that support work flexibility

A global survey conducted by Robert Walters in May 2020 indicated that 88% of employees want to continue teleworking even after COVID-19 ends. As professionals’ attitudes towards work change, it is very likely that flexible work styles will become the norm in the post post-pandemic era. How should HR departments handle the transition from traditional to flexible, location-independent work styles? We have prepared a guide summarising key points to keep in mind for organisations when designing or updating their employment systems.

Flexible working styles become mainstream

Concerns have arisen over whether implementing full remote work or workcations make it difficult to pinpoint actual working hours and lead to longer working hours. However, the past several months of work from home have produced some promising results such as increased productivity, sense of belonging to an organisation, and decreased stress levels.

Meanwhile, perception among employees have also changed amidst COVID-19. According to our survey, 77% of employees said that their productivity remained unchanged or increased while working from home. Additionally, over 80% of companies surveyed plan to continue offering work from home as a regular option. As the government continues promoting telework measures, companies can move on to even more flexible arrangements that allow employees to work from any location.

Issues that arise from flexible working styles

Up until now, the default working style involved employees gathering in a shared space to carry out their responsibilities and projects. But as flexible work styles rise in popularity, the possibility of working with team members whom you have only met online will increase.

Many factors seem to support the trend towards shifting to more flexible work styles. Communication infrastructure that supports flexible work styles (e.g. business support tools, online conferencing systems, etc.) have already been implemented and perceptions among governments, companies and employees have changed. Our survey also revealed that productivity has improved during telework.

If this happens, having a clear division between work and private life will become more challenging. So far, companies and individuals have designed work-life balance based on the premise that work and private are conflicting, and they prioritise one while balancing the other. However, in the era of work style flexibility, there will need to be a mindset shift towards the idea of ‘work-life blending’. In this concept, both work and private life are not seen as conflicting things but are both perceived as important elements for an enriching life.

Key points when designing employment systems

1. Communication platforms tailored for global hiring

As flexible working styles become more commonplace, securing top talent will no longer remain geographically limited. Some companies around the world have already adjusted their hiring strategies to include quotas for employees who are not required to go to the office. When recruiting fully remote workers, interviews, engagement and onboarding must all be implemented online. To ensure that employees working in separate locations can properly integrate in the company, effectively utilising digital communication tools is crucial. Creating opportunities for communication, conducting virtual activities and creating team building workshops/online training can help remote employees feel a sense of belonging and stay engaged without being physically present.

2. Wellbeing measures in the new era

As jobs become less location dependent, people can focus more of their time on family and personal interests. People are placing more emphasis on working styles that enable them to perform best whilst simultaneously maintain their wellbeing and pursue enriching, meaningful lives. At the same time, the boundary between work and personal life is becoming more blurred. This can sometimes lead to working longer hours and eventually cause burnout. Flexible work styles can provide professionals with improved work-life balance and lower stress levels if they have the adequate support from employers. By offering online seminars, counselling and other measures aimed at employee health, organisations can look after their people’s wellbeing and at the same time retain talent.

3. A results-oriented evaluation system

When employees are no longer required to work in the office every day, assessing their productivity becomes more challenging. Switching to an outcomes-based evaluation such as KPIs met and revenue generated allows managers to fairly evaluate employees regardless of whether they are working in or out of the workplace. On the other hand, an employee’s behavioural evaluation such as his or her efforts and commitment to completing a project should not be overlooked. When assessing performance, gauge employees’ attitudes towards their work and discuss challenges and proposals to address them together at regular 1-on-1 meetings.

4. Developing and operating a flexible work system

Organisations that are thinking of introducing flexible work systems should thoroughly review whether their existing systems and work styles are compatible. For example, before implementing a workcation system, it would be a good idea to review internal systems and guidelines such as leave requests and data security protocols during telework. Before flexible working system can be effectively carried out, the leadership in an organisation should ensure that their processes are able to support a new working style and make adjustments where needed.

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