Flexible becomes core for talent retention

As companies resume regular offices, employees still prefer hybrid

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has asked corporate employees to work from resorts. This surprise message from the PM offers employees a much-needed change of scene and some respite from everyday work stress.

The nature of work changed during the pandemic. According to the EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey, 29% of people would prefer working remotely full time, and 23% would prefer hybrid work. The Prime Minister’s innovative solution is catering to this large demographic.

For corporates, the last two years almost went in a haze. Companies had to make arrangements for a new format of working, while employees were getting adjusted to the pace of remote work.

So when the covid case numbers began coming down, companies across Southeast Asia had a key message for their employees: “We are hoping to see you back in the office in the new year”.

But, the employees haven’t been too keen. After working from home for close to two years, the staff doesn’t want to give up on flexibility. And human resources managers are in a fix.

A Deloitte report said that while the potential for remote work varies across geographies, sectors, and occupations, an estimated 50 million jobs could switch to remote work across ASEAN.

The biggest challenge currently is that not all jobs can be done remotely. For example, a data analyst can work from home but not the technical support staff. That’s where companies are now back to the drawing board

Workplaces are changing

A one-size-fits-all approach will not work anymore. While job roles such as branch banking, medical services, and manufacturing cannot be performed from home, the other roles are location agnostic.

Prior to the pandemic, there was a clear reluctance from companies to offer flexible work settings. But with the lived experiences of remote working right in front of them, there is data to prove that work didn’t suffer.

In PwC Vietnam for instance, there is a combination of physical and non-physical workplaces. Here, employees are presented with different options including working from the office, working from home, and a mix of office plus home that can be chosen as per their convenience.

Companies also save costs. Accenture research shows that employers typically save $11,000 for every person who works 50% remotely.

Employers can no longer afford to stay out of touch with employee needs. In the Philippines for example, call centres are moving to an on-site+remote work ecosystem. This is solely a mechanism to retain employees.

This is the pressing need of the hour. Microsoft’s Annual Work Trend Index report, ‘Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work’ showed that Gen X and Millennials don’t want to stick to the 9-6 office environment. And close to 50% of employees are ready to quit jobs in favour of roles with flexibility.

The best of both

With all this in mind, companies are changing too.

United Overseas Bank, Thailand has implemented a policy to allow employees to work remotely up to two days per week. In addition, non-customer-facing staff can also choose when to begin their workday in the 7:30-10 A.M. window.

Similarly, mature economies such as Singapore have become conscious of the quality of life.

Technology company SAP, for example, has removed the dedicated work desks at their Singapore offices to move to a flexible setting. While employees can choose their work location during regular days, SAP has designed the office to have in-person meetings.

DBS Bank, too, has rolled out a policy to allow staff to work remotely for up to 40% of their required work hours.

With six in ten Southeast Asian workers saying they would quit their jobs if they aren’t offered flexibility, organisations are now being nudged to change. And this is just the beginning.