Globally, the International Labour Organisation has estimated that 2.7 billion or more than 4 out of 5 workers in the world have been affected by COVID-19, challenging organisations to embrace work from home arrangements.

According to Deloitte's new report Remote work | A temporary ‘bug’ becomes a permanent ‘feature’, remote working arrangements can make sound commercial sense, and what started as a temporary bug, is, therefore, shaping up to be a permanent feature. In fact, 74% of CFOs expect flexible work arrangements to continue in some form, citing significant cost savings from reduced real estate, travel and infrastructure costs as the key drivers.

Based on Deloitte's analysis, up to 47.8 million people in the ASEAN-6 nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam) could shift to working remotely over a multi-year time horizon.

Leading the pack are Singapore and Malaysia, countries with a potential remote workforce of up to 45% and 26% respectively due to the relative dominance of service industries.

Elsewhere in ASEAN, the business case for Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam is also fairly strong, given the massive productivity losses related to urban commute time.

deloitte potential workforce transition to remote working arrangements across asean 6 nations

The report also shed light on how this shift to remote work is likely to unfold, from a sector and occupation perspective. 

Services first, with professional services as well as technology and telecommunications leading the way

Given the nature of the jobs to be done, the tertiary (services) industry can be expected to have a more significant shift to emote working arrangements.

While there will be variations across the landscape, Deloitte expects that anywhere between a fourth (25%) to two thirds (67%) of the workforce will move to permanent remote arrangements in the medium term.

Leading the way will be the professional services as well as technology and telecommunications industries. With virtually no ceiling, there is the potential for these industries to transit 90% of the workforce to remote working.

In the financial services and real estate sectors, the margin pressures, move to digital, changing customer preferences and the presence of younger, tech-savvy workforce will likely accelerate the transition over coming quarters.

Other services such as administration and support, wholesale and retail trade, healthcare, hospitality and transportation/logistics show more modest potential for remote transitions (between a fourth and a third of the workforce). It is estimated that most of the roles that will transition in these sectors are support/enablement roles including finance, HR, legal, marketing and technology.

Elsewhere in the manufacturing sector, the occupation analysis suggests that a significant proportion of support, management and enablement roles can (and will) move to remote formats.

deloitte potential workforce transition to remote working arrangements across the services sectors

By occupation, support and enablement functions such as HR, Legal, and IT lead the transition 

Citing a recent study from Slack, the report pointed out that a vast majority of users in different functions and occupations signaled their willingness and ability to work remotely. Only 11% of 2877 workers surveyed in by Slack felt that their work cannot be done remotely

That said, there is no doubt that certain occupations are more suited to remote working arrangements than others.

For instance, back-office support and enablement functions such as HR, administration, legal, IT and security will make the largest wholesale transition to remote working. 

On the other end of the spectrum, hybrid occupations, to be completed in specific locations, or requiring specialised equipment such as field operations, will see the least movement to remote working arrangements.

Whereas customer-facing occupations are likely to adjust slower as they adjust to new customer interaction expectations and technology requirements.

deloitte potential workforce transition to remote working arrangements across occupations

By seniority, Deloitte noted that senior leaders have the highest potential to shift fully offsite, however, they are facing barriers in terms of the skills and mindsets necessary to lead highly effective virtual teams.

Working remotely requires a new language, skillset and toolset for managers and employees. Many managers, used to having daily face-time with their teams, are not yet skilled in how to achieve the trust and ways of working required for highly effective virtual teams. 

Given the hierarchical social construct in ASEAN countries, moving senior executives to remote formats is critical in accelerating the transition to remote working. 

Hence, organisations that are looking to fully reap the benefits of remote working should establish new ways of setting goals, creating alignment, assigning work, monitoring progress, providing feedback and coaching, and resolving conflict, among others. These new standards need to be understood and adopted across all levels of management.

While it is no doubt a substantial transition for more traditional work-from-office cultures, it is one that organisations will have to address sooner rather than later to stay competitive with digital-first companies.

Whilst COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of the transition to remote working, working from home (WFH) has its challenges. Hence, Deloitte expects that over the next six months companies are going to review their work from home arrangements and look for alternatives to this form factor.

One alternative that could emerge from that re-evaluation is 'work near home' - a 'best of both worlds' scenario where employees work based out of communal/shared suburban worksites (located in the suburbs, close to where people live) which provide the functional requirements for the remote workforce of large employers and small employers alike.

The emergence of these spaces has the potential to radically change the way large organisations plan and deploy space for their workforce, creating a third option for workers between the office and home.

Infographics / Deloitte

Lead image / iStock