after-hours communication

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The template provided covers seven areas that you could incorporate in your version, or simply use the policy as it is if that works for your organisation. 

It's not uncommon to hear from your boss or teammates over the weekend or during dinner, in a time where employees are being encouraged to adopt flexible practices (and hours) that work best for them. However, not much literature is available on the norms that may work best in such cases. 

Singapore's Alliance for Action (AfA) on Work-Life Harmony has introduced a sample 'after-hours' communication policy which employers can adopt.

The policy covers seven areas recommended for employers to take note of:

  • The objective of the policy;
  • The nature of work;
  • The expectations on 'after-hours' communication;
  • Communication;
  • Employee's responsibility;
  • Human Resources manager's responsibility, and
  • Pilot period - implementation.

Essentially, these seven areas are the template for any after-hours communication policy, and we've pulled out the key bits that you could incorporate in your version, or simply use the policy as it is if that works for your organisation.

Continue below to understand the respective sections.

1. Objective

Start off by stating what the purpose of your policy is, for example, the purpose of the after-hours communication policy is to outline how [Organisation Name] can support work-life harmony for all employees as well as align to the recommendations from the various government agencies and tripartite partners.

Here's the template provided by AfA:

[Organisation Name] recognises the importance of establishing reasonable expectations for employees to achieve work-life harmony and wishes to establish an after-hours communication policy for all employees. There is a recognition that after-hours communication may not be entirely avoidable across the organisation due to the nature of different jobs but the policy’s principles and intent should hold, where possible.

2. Nature of work

For this section, the intent is to share examples of business-critical and/ or time-sensitive situations, which includes (but are not limited to) urgent matters or emergencies such as security breaches, equipment breakdown affecting business operations, health and safety issues, cybersecurity threats etc.

Here's the template provided by AfA:

Whilst the policy is intended to cultivate a work culture conducive to support employees' wellbeing in [Organisation Name], it is fully recognised that situations may arise when it is necessary to contact employees outside of stipulated working hours. It is also acknowledged that various roles are conducted in different ways such as telecommuting or flexible operation to be responsive to customer and business needs as required.

3. Expectations

The idea here is to establish reasonable expectations for work-related communication after hours and to communicate to existing and new employees upon hiring.

Here's the template provided by AfA:

Supervisors should be mindful when communicating with employees after stipulated working hours regardless of the platform of communication, which includes: phone calls, SMS and messaging applications. This policy should apply to employees who are on leave. These employees should not be contacted unless it is urgent and there is no other alternative.

4. Communication

The objective here is to clearly determine the mode of communications in various situations. Typically, this list should be frequently reviewed and shared with all employees. 

Here's the template provided by AfA:

In critical matters, required personnel may be contacted via [organisation’s established mode of contact]. When contacting others, the employer/employee shall clearly state the following:

  1. Issue/ problem statement requiring urgent attention;
  2. Required actions;
  3. Time to complete; and
  4. Desired outcome.

[Organisation Name] shall declare a list of persons from each department as the point of contact for critical business issues. Alternate arrangements such as team rosters shall be made available to all employees as well.

5. Employee's responsibility

To ensure this policy is feasible, employees should understand their responsibility clearly, and this is best done if listed out.

Here's the template provided by AfA:

Each employee shall understand the importance and parameters of the after-hours communication policy by:

  • Keeping to his/her job scope deliverables in a timely manner so that the occurrences of important tasks escalating to critical and highly urgent stages can be minimised,
  • Respecting other employees' established working hours and avoiding routinely contacting them for work-related matters after hours,
  • Providing feedback to supervisor on parameters of the after-hours communication policy.

6. HR manager's responsibility

As with every employee-centric policy, HR has a key role to play. In this case, it would be good to have HR's purview listed out.

Here's the template provided by AfA:

The HR manager shall provide guidance on the organisation’s after-hours communication policy by:

  • Clearly stating the policy parameters, including the likelihood of urgent cases occurring,
  • Incorporating the after-hours communication policy in material for various employment stages, including onboarding processes, 
  • Managing concerns and grievances on the implementation of this policy when the matter is unable to be resolved between supervisor and employee,
  • Ensuring employees are not unduly penalised when they are unable to respond to work-related matters after-hours.

7. Pilot period - implementation 

AfA recommends that for organisations that are newly implementing this policy, if found necessary by the supervisor and the HR manager, departments can proceed with a three-month trial (pilot) to review and enhance the policy accordingly.

At the end of the trial period, the supervisor and the employees involved should complete an evaluation and make suitable recommendations for continuance of the policy in the organisation.


Bonus: Case study of Royal Plaza on Scotts 

Singapore-based Royal Plaza on Scotts has implemented policies around no after-hours communication, no meeting Fridays, and hybrid workplace people practices. 

These policies indicate that employees should avoid communication about work after hours, on rest days, and public holidays. These include emails, calls, and texts. All employees will pledge tosign their name to show their commitment for these new people practices.

Diving further into after-hours communication, employees are advised to respond with emojis to indicate that they are off work, for example:

  • A smiley face with sunglasses emoji means that one is off for the day. The reply can be made when the employee is back at work.
  • Being in a business that runs 24/7, there may be unexpected situations that require immediate attention. In this case, employees can use three shocked expression faces to indicate urgency of the matter and continue to explain the situation further.

“The management understands that this might take some time for the employees to get used to as we are all so highly-connected via technology especially since the beginning of the pandemic," noted Patrick Fiat, General Manager of Royal Plaza on Scotts.

In addition, No Meeting Fridays have been rolled out to help employees have one full day of uninterrupted time to fully concentrate on the tasks that they have on hand, to prepare themselves for the week ahead, and to unwind for the weekend.

As part of its hybrid workplace practices, Royal Plaza on Scotts has implemented practices that have traditionally been difficult to execute in the hospitality sector. These include:

  • Administrative employees can choose to work in office or from home and manage their work where they can be most effective.
  • By working with their respective team leaders, employees can arrange for a WFH day once a week.
  • For frontline employees, operation team members have a choice of five or six days workweek, 22 or 44-hour workweek, or fixed shift, based on their individual needs.

Image / 123RF

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