While remote working has brought about flexibility in work schedules and helped improve employee productivity, it has no doubt brought on its own set of challenges too - such as a lack of work-life balance.

In this final segment of a two-part special feature, Priya Sunil speaks to nine leaders across industries on what remote working means for their workforce, and if they see it as a permanent fixture of the future.

Are you for or against remote working, and if so, in what format? 

Cloris Gu, HR Director, Eaton East Asia

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Eaton has been an advocate for remote working for some time. We understand some employees would require flexible working arrangements due to non-work commitments. We want to ensure we’re able to support them where possible so they’re able to better balance their work and personal responsibilities efficiently.

Susan Otto, Chief People Officer, BlackLine

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We are mainly proponents of remote working. Our employees have shown incredible resilience and productivity ever since we’ve had to implement office-wide work from home arrangements. We’ve adapted to remote working well given the nature of our industry where digitalisation and automation are at the core of our business. However, we understand different industries/businesses might take to it differently.

Jessica Simpson, Human Resources Director, Amgen Singapore Manufacturing

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The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed Amgen to transcend boundaries and experiment with new ways of working while ensuring that health, safety and the well-being of our staff remain top priority. Over the past year, we have made huge strides into an area of work flexibility that we never thought was possible in our bio-manufacturing industry and have successfully adapted to the realities of work-from- home, making remote working arrangements more effective and productive than ever.

Technology lies at the heart of the future of work. That said, we are cognizant some industries such as bio-manufacturing could never fully go remote – at least for now - because some processes would still require workers to collaborate in the same place or to conduct critical work in a specific location.

So, while remote working appears to be here to stay since it is workable for many roles and provides staff with a much-needed ability to better harmonise between work and personal demands, embedding this as part of our new normal will require flexibility on the part of all workers and for all to learn how to work in a different way to ensure business outcomes are not compromised.

Going forward, the future of work is creative, flexible and human. Companies are expected to increasingly adopt a hybrid style of working that balances remote and non-remote work to support the individualized needs of our employees. There is not a one-size-fits-all model and this will take time for our leaders to learn how to be agile and flexible in the way they approach leading teams with this hybrid approach. This model worked well for Amgen in the midst of the pandemic and has enabled us to continue delivering critical medicines for our patients without compromising productivity - all while providing the ability for greater work life harmony for our staff.

With the advent of advanced manufacturing and digital transformation, manufacturing jobs of the future will continue to get redefined. In time to come, we can envision manufacturing processes to be further automated such that workers can control the systems from remote locations, providing opportunities for even further flexibility.

Helen Snowball, Chief Human Resources Officer, JLL Asia Pacific

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At JLL, we’ve always believed in flexible working. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, we had schemes in place such as the Gradual Return to Work Programme to allow employees to ease back to work after a period of leave.

There is no doubt we’re able to work efficiently and effectively remotely. But what we’ve also recognised is that the extensive work-from-home period leads to a lack of boundaries between work and personal life.

This is the time for corporates to reimagine remote working. Beyond merely instituting a hybrid or flexible work model where some time is spent in the office and other days at home, we should use this opportunity to create a better employee experience so that employees feel connected to their organisations and colleagues whether they’re at work or at home.

One way could be a building a virtual toolkit where employees can log on to a single platform for all their resources and to better understand their organisation instead of searching through multiple websites since there are less face-to-face opportunities to get these answers.

Vincent Goh, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific and Japan, CyberArk

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The need to pivot to remote working quickly has accelerated digital transformation in both CyberArk and our customer base, so in many ways I believe that remote working has forced businesses in the region to tap into the potential technology brings; in order to adapt and survive there has been a real impetus to make changes that would previously have taken years, and this is refreshing. As CyberArk is a cyber security business, so we see the other side as well. Businesses that rushed into onboarding new applications and services face a different set of cybersecurity challenges.

Remote working means that each one of us is now a potential entry point into the organisation for attackers, so risks have now increased, and organisations have become more vulnerable to cyberattacks than ever.

Cybercriminals are playing on people’s fears around Covid-19 to conduct social-engineering based attacks. So my caveat for remote working for organisations is that it can be very positive in many ways, but it must also be done in such a way that doesn’t place the organisation at risk.

Jeannie Wong, Director of Human Resources, Thales in Singapore & South East Asia

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As a HR leader, I believe that an efficient workplace is all about maintaining a good balance, and remote working fits in this picture as long as efficiency and results are not compromised.

Thales adapted quickly to remote working, and the Group has also introduced a global “Smart Working” initiative where each business unit has the ability to adopt a hybrid work model, based around decentralising decisions and empowering managers to decide how best to organise their teams. In South East Asia, the focus lies on creating collaborative workspaces that’s based on trust and results.

June Chui, HR Director, Asia Pacific & Japan, Pure Storage

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Definitely for. Even before the pandemic, our employees were able to work remotely, with the agreement of their managers, even if we have a physical office space in the employee's location. As a global company with work teams dispersed across regions and collaboration meetings spanning different time zones, remote working enables our employees to accommodate these early mornings and late-night calls while balancing commitments in our personal lives.

Juliana Ang, Chief Human Resources Officer, NTUC Income

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The onset of the Circuit Breaker provided the impetus for us to review our working arrangement at Income. In Q3 last year, we have reviewed all the work requirements for our staff and confirmed that 85% of the roles are able to work from home. As such, since Q4 last year, we have implemented a flexible work arrangement where staff who are eligible to work from home could opt to do so on a permanent basis.

Currently, employees are on split team basis and have the flexibility to either return to the physical workspace during their assigned week, or continue to work from home. It has served us well so far, and we continue to enjoy high levels of staff collaboration and productivity.

Beyond just remote working, the key intent of implementing the work-from-home policy is part of the work culture that we want to build, so that Income stays agile and flexible to adopt and embrace changes rapidly as well as stay relevant in an ever-evolving operating landscape.

Niharica Sand, HR Director, REDHILL

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Leading the HR practice and developing policies at a global organisation, I am completely for remote working. Since remote working arrangements kicked in since March last year, the HR team at REDHILL have been taking regular pulse surveys and one-on-one check-ins with all our employees across Asia Pacific, Europe and Middle East. These regular surveys help us to identify and assess the challenges and needs of our employees, so that we can address and adjust working arrangements in an efficient manner.

At REDHILL, the hybrid format has been the most successful for our organisation thus far. In a hybrid work arrangement, our employees can choose to work in the office (if local regulations permits) or work from home. Having this flexibility allows teams to come in the office once or twice a week to meet their teammates and have discussions to facilitate collaboration and creative thinking. It also allows working parents and interns to work around their own school commitments and shape their own schedules. We find that face-to-face meetings are still more effective for brainstorming, idea generation and group discussions.

We strongly encourage R&R; Responsibility & Reward, where each employee is responsible for their work, and thus rewarded with the flexibility to manage their time and place of work. Looking at the workforce of the future, such policies help attract and retain strong talent.


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The pros and cons of remote working

Juliana Ang, Chief Human Resources Officer, NTUC Income

Pros

Remote working arrangement supports the agile way of working, while also keeping our customers and employees safe at all times. This enables us to drive bottom-up innovation, build collaboration across teams and cultivate an open mindset, so as to sharpen our competitive edge. A conducive work environment and culture can empower staff to be more self-directed.

Acquiring such a mindset is especially important in keeping ourselves motivated and fulfilled at work. One of the ways we promote agile ways of working across Income is by exposing employees to regular personal development through immersive trainings such as Design Thinking workshops.

Cons

However, remote working also brings about some challenges, one of which is the lack of daily face-to-face social interactions which we would normally expect in a regular office setting. It cannot be replaced but we can work around it and still have productive meetings and discussions virtually with the use of technology, open communication and coordination. Team and project meetings within safe distancing measures are also actively encouraged, when it makes it more productive for work to be done together.

Vincent Goh, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific and Japan, CyberArk

Pros

It has forced us all to make the effort to interact with the people we need to connect with in a different way. An example would be trade show attendance.

Clearly, getting thousands of people in a room is not possible currently and may not be for some time. So it has forced an accelerated shift to digital; to educate, inform and project what CyberArk can do for customers in a way that is vastly different.

Cons

We, at CyberArk are a very people-driven team; it’s part of our DNA to meet in person to plan, celebrate, and of course to socialise.

Face-to-face interactions have been central to what the company is about. The bonds we have with our colleagues, customers and partners are strong and have survived the pandemic, and flexible working will be part of life going forward.So while I wouldn’t say it hasn’t worked, we certainly welcome the promise of the upcoming year in terms of enabling more safe physical interaction.

Jeannie Wong, Director of Human Resources, Thales in Singapore & South East Asia

Pros

Remote working implies a certain shift of autonomy back into the hands of the employees so there has to be an implicit level of trust between managers and their people. The approach sees a new way of working which is more technology-immersive, flexible and results-oriented. We have seen teams organise themselves in the best way possible to serve our customers and keep to their commitments, with employees being more focused on high-quality outputs and being more outcome-driven.

Managers have also adjusted expectations to exclude perpetual presenteeism and to focus on what’s really important – improving collective productivity so we can better deliver to our customers and stakeholders.

Cons

While it has its benefits, remote working is not possible for all departments and all types of work. Thales is involved across a very diverse spectrum of businesses, which include essential services for key sectors like aerospace and rail transportation. Our colleagues in these business units work on industrial and operational sites that require them to be on-premise daily.

Due to the high level of confidentiality required by many of our projects, we also have teams who need to access secured and encrypted servers and other equipment which are only available at our secure sites. For a company like ours, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution and the key lies again in empowering our managers to make the best arrangements for their teams to function effectively.

Helen Snowball, Chief Human Resources Officer, JLL Asia Pacific

Pros

It’s helped to shift mindsets and accelerate the embracing of technology. Real estate is still largely a traditional industry, but at JLL, we have invested in the best technology tools for our employees to stay connected and collaborative.

Remote working has also intensified the sense of caring and collaboration at JLL.

For instance, our employees in various offices spontaneously set up fitness groups to encourage each other to stay healthy and active while under lockdowns. Other teams rallied together to donate to the less fortunate in their local communities.

I’d say remote working boosts the significance of culture and teamwork in JLL. It gives us greater motivation to continue to nurture these aspects even though we may not spend so much time physically together.

Cons

It’s clear that there is a mental toll that comes with working from home where employees juggle multiple responsibilities and there is no clear 'switch off' mode. From an HR point of view, we can do more in terms of training and empowering leaders to manage people remotely.

There will be questions around how line managers can feel comfortable and supported with flexible arrangements. How do you communicate expectations and show accountability? Can you build corporate culture and ensure successful on-boarding of new hires remotely?

These are tricky issues to navigate. It could be some time before companies and their HR teams create a sustainable and effective framework for this.

Susan Otto, Chief People Officer, BlackLine

Pros

Most of our employees were able to experience increased productivity due to the elimination of commute time. Many have also shared an improvement in their work-life balance as they’re able to better juggle their personal and work commitments. Overall, the transition to remote working has been manageable for us. However, we understand not everyone’s home environment is conducive to remote work. Thus, we work closely with the management and team managers to ensure everyone has the resources and support they need as we continue with mass remote work for some time.

Cons

We do miss the organic and casual interactions which can happen in the office. It’s not possible to just bump into a colleague on WebEx or Zoom and strike a conversation. While there are tools for collaboration such as using an online whiteboard, it’s still a different experience compared to doing so in-person. Hence, we do our best to organise online gatherings which are more casual in nature such as games sessions when possible so colleagues have additional avenues to connect.

Cloris Gu, HR Director, Eaton East Asia

Pros

Even prior to COVID-19, we had remote working practices to provide employees with the flexibility and support they need to manage their professional and personal commitments efficiently. With no signs to the end of the pandemic just yet, remote working remains essential in helping us ensure the physical safety of our employees. Supplemented with suitable virtual tools and technologies, it also enables our teams to maintain productivity and continuity.

Cons

Humans are by nature gregarious animals - we long for social interactions. While virtual engagement will never go away, it will never replace the value of genuine face-to-face communication either.

Looking beyond corporations like Eaton, there are many who work in service industries that rely on the existence of corporations and office buildings. These individuals’ livelihoods have been severely impacted with the sudden and mass implementation of remote working during COVID.

As a society, we are all interconnected and are morally obligated to support each other where possible as we continue on the road to recovery.

Niharica Sand, HR Director, REDHILL

Pros

The most important benefit of remote work has been the realisation and its acceptance as a legitimate alternative to being in an office. This shift in working habits has enabled us to empower every individual to focus on what truly matters to them, and the ability to effectively balance their professional and personal lives.

As an organisation, we have witnessed two key benefits to our bottom line: an increase in employee engagement leading to higher productivity, and sprinkled attendance has led to cost reductions.

Employee engagement has significantly improved as a result of conscious efforts to stay engaged with teams during lockdown. We were also able to identify and address internal communication blind-spots. Such efforts have resulted in a reduction in attrition rates while enabling us to attract great talent.

As an organisation, we continue to leverage on multiple digital platforms and communication tools to support our staff to stay productive and happy while they work. Overall remote working has been hugely beneficial for us.

Cons

One major pain point is the inability to have synchronous communication. As every discussion is scheduled in advance, in the creative field, this can hamper workflow. It is not easy to brainstorm and be creative on schedule. The ability to tap your colleague on their shoulder, walk over to their desk, or just ‘join in’ is greatly reduced. Socialising becomes forced and the conversation flow is no longer organic. 

Secondly, performance evaluations are more difficult to assess. Considering most employees did not have a flexible work arrangement before the COVID-19 pandemic, people needed a few months adapting to over-communication, scheduled discussions and working in isolation. Generally, working remotely makes it more difficult to fairly assess each team member’s contribution and capability.

Data security risk is also a factor, especially for companies that do not have secure devices for their employees. With data the mantra of today, the security of one’s IP is of utmost importance.

June Chui, HR Director, Asia Pacific & Japan, Pure Storage

Pros

It has helped in enabling our employees to better balance their work and home lives and we've seen an improvement in employee morale with little impact on productivity. We've seen that remote working also promotes trust and empowerment, as the focus is on delivering business outcomes as opposed to being "seen" in the office. 

Cons

While we ourselves have not seen this directly, one possible downside is that the employee doesn't feel a strong bond with the company. Pre-pandemic, our employees were used to mix remote working with coming to the office. Even for our employees who work in locations with no physical offices, we encourage them to occasionally travel to a location with an office so they can build that bond. In this period of lockdown, we're overcoming this by encouraging our managers and their team members to over-communicate on goals, delivery commitments and feedback.

Managing a remote team is challenging and we provide many tools and resources to our people managers to be conscious of the different aspects including the unconscious bias against team members they may see more often face to face vis-a-vis remote team members.

Jessica Simpson, Human Resources Director, Amgen Singapore Manufacturing

Pros

While the broad impacts of remote work have yet to be measured across industries and for extended lengths of time, initial studies have found that remote working can increase productivity and lower employee turnover. Not surprisingly, our employees have also cited flexible schedules and telecommuting as key drivers in enabling our talent attraction and retention strategy. In Singapore, we plan to launch a telecommuting policy where eligible staff will be able to request a work arrangement of a certain number of days a month to telecommute from home once the pandemic stabilises.

Amgen recognises that it is important to offer employees flexibility where possible and more options for harmonising work and their personal lives. Even before the pandemic, flexible work arrangements were a major consideration for top talents when evaluating potential job opportunities. Remote working not only allows our employees to open up new career and growth opportunities for themselves, it also enables the company to tap into an unlimited talent pool especially for those hard to fill roles.

The pandemic has also inadvertently helped us create and redefine a new company culture and organisational success in the way we connect, engage and communicate with our staff. Over the past year, we have seen how our leaders and teams have rose above the challenges – in rethinking, relearning and putting their creativity, flexibility and social skills such as resilience, empathy and active listening to use.

These, coupled with our culture of actively caring for each other, are critical for us in sustaining our efforts towards an inclusive workplace - where employees feel belonged and are able to bring out their best selves to work.

Cons

Despite all the positive press about working remote, remote work does have its share of challenges. With distributed teams, things like a lack of communication, cybersecurity concerns, training and onboarding challenges, and burnout are more pronounced. Other common downsides include the inability to unplug, social isolation, and difficulty collaborating. While staff enjoy the flexibility of working from home, the downside can be staff feels that there is no clear delineation or disconnect between their work and life and are ‘always-on’.

This can result in longer working hours than employees would have in a traditional office setting and can create a feeling of work fatigue. Some people also dislike working in the same place where they live and relax, and it can be difficult to create, engage and maintain a company culture without people being in the same room. Not being able to see people 'in real life' also takes a toll on employees’ mental health and many feel disconnected from those they used to feel close to.

Remote working has become the new norm; but for certain jobs, especially within the biomanufacturing industry, it can present significant challenges where some processes would still require employees to collaborate in the same place.

As remote work becomes more of a new normal, we will see these challenges rise up the priority ladder for organisations trying to grow and move forward in this new paradigm. This will require an open mind from staff and leaders alike to be able to strike the right balance between doing what is right for the business and to support individual staff needs in creative and supportive ways.



Is flexible working here to stay?

Helen Snowball, Chief Human Resources Officer, JLL Asia Pacific

Definitely. The belief that it is not possible has been permanently debunked. The role of the physical office has also evolved and magnified – it is becoming a hub for social interaction, collaboration and innovation.

As a real estate consultancy, we are helping our clients reimagine and repurpose their work environments to make the best use of the space. Flexible working and the pandemic ushered in the increasing importance of employee experience, mental health and inclusion in the office, and leading with trust and empathy. The future of work is already here. None of us can ignore it!

Niharica Sand, HR Director, REDHILL

I would bet on a ‘Work from Anywhere’ future. Of course, this is heavily dependent on industry and the type of work. It’s relatively easier for knowledge-based jobs to switch to flexible working as compared to manufacturing or medical industries.

What will help is the adoption of technology and changes in the organisational processes that support remote working. The company leadership’s openness to change is also an important factor.

While policy changes may happen because the future workforce expect and demand it, true change will only happen with a top-down mindset change.The pandemic related lock-down was the push factor, forcing everyone to a ‘new normal’. With the arrival of vaccines and economies opening up, it is very easy to slip back to the old ways. However, pull factors for flexible working will lead to a longer-term change.

Juliana Ang, Chief Human Resources Officer, NTUC Income

We have adapted well to remote working as an organisation, and so have our employees, as reflected in our internal organisational brand health survey. In fact in 2020, Income achieved a score of 81 on the Organisational Health Index (OHI), an improvement over our 2019 score which placed us in the top decile when benchmarked against global insurance brands. This shows that the changes that we’ve made in different aspects of the company have been effective and that employees are perceiving them to be driving change for the better.

We are prepared to continue flexible working for the long haul, as part of Income’s Future of Work (FoW). Majority of our staff can continue to have the option and flexibility to work anywhere and connect anytime. Such an approach empowers and motivates a more self-directed culture that drives higher accountability and efficiencies, as well as, inspire more cross collaborations and innovations.

More significantly, it aims to promote meaningful and productive work practices across the organisation where we can then flourish and grow both individually and as an organisation.

Vincent Goh, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific and Japan, CyberArk

I believe flexible working will remain a permanent model for many organisations. It has been a practical, impossible-to-avoid demonstration of the positives in a working model that many organisations felt instinctively was something to be avoided at all costs. Productivity has not been negatively affected. Less time is spent travelling. People get to see their families more. Moving forwards, the innovation and technology that we have all swiftly adopted means flexible working is here to stay.

From the parochial cyber security viewpoint, I also believe that 2020 was a watershed moment for cyber security as well. It has been propelled to wholesale boardroom consciousness because of the clear security risks that home working represents.

Cyber is now fundamental to strategy. I believe flexible working will remain a permanent model for many organisations. It has been a practical, impossible-to-avoid demonstration of the positives in a working model that many organisations felt instinctively was something to be avoided at all costs. Productivity has not been negatively affected. Less time is spent travelling. People get to see their families more.

Moving forwards, the innovation and technology that we have all swiftly adopted means flexible working is here to stay. From the parochial cyber security viewpoint, I also believe that 2020 was a watershed moment for cyber security as well. It has been propelled to wholesale boardroom consciousness because of the clear security risks that home working represents. Cyber is now fundamental to strategy.

Jessica Simpson, Human Resources Director, Amgen Singapore Manufacturing

While remote work is successful for many and is becoming part of the "new normal", the office has its place in driving a strong culture and will continue to play a key function. We see flexible working being integral to the future of work - with a blend of digital and in person activities to support a hybrid workforce that remains nimble as organisations continue to evolve. Most importantly, flexible working addresses most of the workplace issues that have plagued companies in the past two decades concerning work-life balance and in attracting different types of workers.

Having the right procedures in place will help companies to survive and thrive. No matter the form, the focus will always be to ensure a human touch and to weave empathy as a cornerstone of an organisation’s culture. As many businesses seek to engage remote workers, inclusion, belonging and care must and should always be at the forefront as businesses weigh their actions and impact on culture.

Leaders will need to continue to inspire performance and commitment through trust, compassion, stability, and hope. This will mark the difference between companies who can emerge post this pandemic with our culture intact or even strengthened.

Susan Otto, Chief People Officer, BlackLine

We’ll likely see a blend of remote working and employees heading back to the office when the pandemic becomes significantly more manageable. This is to accommodate the various needs employees have such as caretaking or needing a more conducive workspace for better collaboration; as well as adhering to safety guidelines. 

Cloris Gu, HR Director, Eaton East Asia

Most businesses would err on the side of caution with the ongoing pandemic and ensure working arrangements adhere to government guidelines. Nonetheless, the past year has shown that more organisations are recognising the value of flexible work in maintaining business continuity. 90% of organisations surveyed by Mercer shared that productivity has either maintained or improved with flexible work, and will likely further expand its implementation in future.

We expect to see hybrid work arrangements that support in-person and virtual collaboration gaining prominence over time. At Eaton, one of our aims this year is to improve working efficiency as we move into the future of work. We will be gradually moving back to the workplace in batches while still strictly adhering to government guidelines and continuing work-from-home arrangements.

We hope this will encourage employees who can head back to the office to do so and strengthen their engagement with their colleagues through more face-to-face interactions.


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