Lessons From the Work From Home Arrangements

Almost a year after telecommuting became the norm for many local businesses, we highlight the key takeaways so far.

Since the start of the circuit breaker last April, many workers in Singapore have worked from home as part of safe distancing measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly a year later, the jury is still out on whether this arrangement has proved to be a boon or bane for both businesses and their workers.

While some have enjoyed the flexibility working from home, others have been plagued by distractions and disruptions on multiple fronts, or have missed the camaraderie of their fellow colleagues.

There is no doubt, however, that some form of telecommuting will become a norm for many companies even after the pandemic has ended. BiZQ looks at some of the key lessons we have garnered from remote working so far.

Working from home does not hurt productivity

Many employers feared that their staff would slack off once they were not required to be in the office. However, this has proven to be largely unfounded, especially since mutual trust and understanding have been established between the companies and their workers. The consensus is that working from home does not affect productivity, and indeed many employees have managed to get more work done away from the office.

A study by Stanford University found that telecommuting can raise productivity by 13 per cent. This improvement was due to fewer delays, such as traffic and long lunches, and workers being able to concentrate better at home.

According to the study, those working from home reported that they were less distracted by co-workers and spent 30 minutes less time talking about non-work-related topics.

The benefits of remote working are uneven

However, not everyone can enjoy the benefits of working from home, as they find it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This is especially true for those who live in more compact homes and are unable to carve out dedicated workspaces.

Without any clear, defined boundaries between the home and office, some employees may find it difficult to unplug from work and end up working more hours than they usually would. It is also difficult for those with young children to concentrate while working from home.

As such, the benefits of working from home differ depending on the specific situation of the workers or the conditions of their homes. Those with the luxury of having their own dedicated working space, relative peace and quiet, and smooth internet access will more easily reap the advantages and benefits of remote working.

Accelerating digital transformation

One unexpected consequence of the pandemic is that it has pushed companies to rethink their business model and adopt digital solutions far more rapidly than they would have had before the pandemic. With the disruption brought about by the pandemic, many companies rushed to embrace digitalisation to keep their operations running or to find alternative sources of revenue to keep their businesses viable.

A study by McKinsey & Company showed that respondents accelerated the digitisation of their core internal operations as well supply chain processes. Significantly, the research found that businesses acted 20 to 25 times faster than expected when adopting these changes.

Likewise, the SBF National Business Survey 2020/2021, which polled 1,075 companies, revealed that 84 per cent of businesses have accelerated their digital transformation due to the pandemic by an average of two years.

If this trend continues, and is likely to, it will help local businesses build up their resilience and become more sustainable in the longer term.

Telecommuting is here to stay

With the benefits seen during the pandemic – from cost savings to enhanced productivity – some employers are likely to stick to some form of work from home arrangement post-COVID-19. Telecommuting will also make it easier for companies to hire staff from different geographical locations, allowing them to broaden their talent pool.

Businesses may adopt a hybrid model that allows their employees to choose whether they wish to work from home or in the office, or a good mix of both. Such flexibility is needed, as there will always be instances where businesses still value face-to-face interactions.