Why Flexible Working Arrangements are Critical for your Organisation



During the Circuit Breaker in 2020, many organisations and employees had to adapt to working-from-home, forcing them to rethink and redefine how work can be done as efficiently and effectively as possible. With Singapore shifting its stance to treat Covid-19 as endemic and further relaxing its Covid-19 safe management measures, organisations can now revert to having their full workforce in office. However, a study conducted by IPS with more than 2,000 employees [1] found that around half the employees surveyed preferred to have autonomy in their work routines, with between 41 and 52 percent of them expressing that Flexible Working Arrangements (FWAs) should be the new workplace norm in Singapore. The study also revealed that 42 per cent of this group would consider a job switch if their employers mandated their return to the office - signalling the growing significance of FWAs in career decisions.

Our Director and Founder Jacqueline Gwee, who was one of the Work-Life Ambassadors interviewed in a 2022 study commissioned by Ministry of Manpower (MOM), observed that as a result of the pandemic, more employers are now starting to recognise the benefits and feasibility of FWAs, and hence more organisations are now open to adopt more flexibility in their working arrangements [2]. These benefits come in the form of faster decision-making, increased productivity, and higher employee satisfaction [3]. By adopting FWAs, organisations can attract and retain talent competitively, and deploy manpower more nimbly. There have also been calls by the tripartite partners - MOM, Singapore National Employers Federation and National Trades Union Congress [4] - for employers to make FWAs a permanent feature. Coupled with the growing preference of employees towards FWAs, employers have limited options in order to retain employees in the increasingly tight talent and labour marketplace. The Covid-19 pandemic has effectively shifted mindsets in terms of work flexibility, and remote working efficiency.


Defining Flexible Work Arrangements


FWAs, as defined by TAFEP, are where employers and employees agree to a variation from the usual work arrangement. Employees are offered flexibility in their working hours, location and/or workload to help them achieve work life harmony so that they can better manage their work and personal responsibilities.


The three main types of FWAs identified by TAFEP are: Flexi-time (Flexibility in start and end times for workday), Flexi-load (Flexibility in the amount of workload assigned) and lastly, Flexi-place (Flexibility in the location employees would like to work).


There can also be a combination of more than one type of FWAs, depending on factors such as industry, nature of work and organisation size. Some organisations are implementing fixed office days for face-to-face meetings or employee onboarding, while others allow employees complete flexibility in choosing their work location, working hours and workload.

Take IBM for example [5]. Due to their service-based nature of work that requires the retention of quality talent and working with clients worldwide, the organisation offers a wide range of FWAs options. They include a Compressed Work Schedule (Flexi-Time) and Telecommuting (Flexi-Place), to ensure their employees have sufficient rest and personal time while still achieving their work goals. With this work life culture, IBM has since enjoyed higher employee retention, enhanced productivity, lower absenteeism and notably, the inclusion of diverse talents such as back-to-work mothers and people with disabilities.

This similar benefit is also observed here at aAdvantage Consulting, where the average length of service of our team here is four to five years, which is above the industry average. In our adoption of FWAs, employees are given the full flexibility in their working hours and location, as long as these are updated in the company’s shared calendars.


Challenges to FWAs


While FWAs are not impossible to implement, it is also heavily dependent on factors such as industry, nature of work, and organisation size. Hence, not all organisations and industries will be able to offer the same types of FWAs given the diversity of individual and business needs.

For instance, workers in the healthcare industry are required to perform on-site shift work and as such, working remotely would be almost impossible. Organisations that lack manpower may also have difficulty implementing flexi-load and flexi-time. For industries where remote work is not feasible, Jacqueline suggested the implementation of a compressed work week (four-day work week) or flexible shift scheduling instead. The bottom line is that given the broad types of FWAs, it is possible to tailor an organisation’s FWAs practices to take into account their employees’ needs as well as the nature of their business operations in order to achieve a win-win situation.


Implementing FWAs


Leadership Buy-in

"All leaders must be aligned on how the work-life strategy can be implemented consistently across the organisation"

— Jacqueline Gwee [6]

It is critical for all leaders to be aligned with implementing FWAs in their organisation. They should serve as ambassadors of the overall work-life culture and should be empowered to address inconsistencies. When leaders champion their organisation's FWAs strategy and walk the talk, employees will be encouraged to follow and adhere to the changes, hence increasing employee engagement.

To empower employees in the new FWAs, processes may need to be redesigned to cater to the new work arrangements.



Redesigning work processes and infrastructure

FWA models require clarity about job roles to determine which tasks are best suited to be done in the office, which can be done remotely. This includes equipping employees with the necessary digital and physical infrastructure to support the implementation of FWAs. Organisations should consider the following:

  • Is it necessary for employees to check in and out of office for work?

  • Can certain work processes be redesigned to allow remote working?

  • Does your organisation have the necessary digital and physical infrastructure to support a flexible work arrangement?


Building the right culture at work

As people form the foundation of an organisation’s culture, employers need to consider the norms, rules, and expectations they are setting both consciously and subconsciously in the organisation. An outcome-driven culture that hinges on trust, inclusivity, and results-orientation is needed for sustainable and effective implementation.


For instance, employers should focus on work deliverables and goals instead of micromanaging gestures like tracking online activities or working hours of their employees. Additionally, employers have to be trained to manage remote working teams and provide the necessary support and guidance to them. When employers display trust and confidence in their employees doing their jobs without close and physical supervision, it will begin to build the suitable culture for FWAs.


Achieving FWAs


There are many facets and challenges when implementi