Published on 21 May 2020

Winning at Working from Home: Insights from Industry Leaders

Working from home (WFH) has become the new norm. As companies adapt to these necessary changes, what factors contribute to successful transition from office to home?

Working from home (WFH) has become the new norm in the current climate, and it will continue to be the case for most firms after the circuit breaker ends. As companies adapt to these necessary changes, what factors contribute to successful transition from office to home? How do firms address issues of connectivity and employee well-being remotely? And what does the future of work look like? To address some of these questions and share insights on what working from home means for organisations and employees, Associate Professor Trevor Yu and a panel of distinguished alumni and industry leaders conducted a Nanyang Business School-organised webinar on 14 May 2020.

Attended by approximately 500 participants, the webinar began with a reminder from Associate Professor Yu that ‘we should not be viewing WFH as the traditional telecommuting as we know it.’ The speed in which businesses have had to transition and adapt their workforce has created many ill-defined job expectations and unfamiliar working contexts. While maintaining productivity during WFH is possible with relevant controls and remote systems in place, issues of engagement need to be continually observed. Susan Cheong from DBS Bank Ltd. said, ‘the engagement is just different when you are not able to gel together on a face-to-face basis. So that cannot be underestimated.’

Employees’ well-being was also a major point of concern for all three panellists. Emily Ho shared how Fullerton Health Pte Ltd. encourages managers to come together and socialise with their teams. ‘We gave them and supported them with platforms on how they can play games online, how they can have fun together with their employees so as to continue to foster these relationships.’ As work and family spaces blur during WFH, there is also a need to empathise with other colleagues’ situations. Jovi Seet from PricewaterhouseCoopers Ltd. emphasised the need to reach out to those who are vulnerable or living with those who are vulnerable. ‘We want to be extremely sensitive about that and don’t make assumptions.’ Associate Professor Yu also added that in addition to such measures, firms should also be encouraging employees to be proactive when it comes to taking care of their own well-being.

In response to Associate Professor Yu’s question on what types of technology will be useful from a managing employee’s standpoint, panellists recommended platforms built for collaborations and visual interactions, as well as systems that allow for ‘self-help’. In addition, technologies beyond the normal work tools could help mediate the lack of social interactions during WFH. Susan Cheong added that ‘there are many things out there, it’s the question of what is your intent. How do you want to bring people together?’

Understanding that normal work life will not be reinstated any time soon, panellists gave advice on preparing for work after the circuit breaker. In particular, Emily Ho believed that businesses had to rethink their use of space. Social distancing measures will still be in place after the circuit breaker, so firms should have deliberate intent of planning about who goes back to the office. ‘Do you give people preferences [on WFH]?’ asks Susan Cheong. ‘And then do you say is it fair, is it not fair? That’s when the structure will have to all come into play about who goes back and who doesn’t.’

Ultimately, the panellists emphasised that human capital and agility are the two most important considerations in WFH. As things are changing by the minute, there is a need to continually embed agility in the firm’s culture. From a wider perspective, we will also have to think about how we can care for each other as a society, especially for those who cannot keep up with this new way of working.

Published on 21 May 2020