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The growing role of flexible working in a world impacted by COVID-19

Singapore's Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower, Low Yen Ling, has highlighted the growing role of flexible working arrangements (FWAs), especially beneficial for companies during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Speaking at the?MOM (Ministry of Manpower) Committee of Supply 2020 discussions, she focused on the need to?improve work opportunities and progress for women and caregivers, as well as enhancing the hiring process of foreign domestic workers (FDWs), among several key points (summarised below).

Support for mothers to transition back to work

The Government's work in this area is led by initiatives such as full-time work with FWAs or part-time work; to providing greater access to childcare support; and promoting FWAs. Some examples include:
  • Career Trial, which provides opportunities for jobseekers and also employers to try each other out over a period of time and assess their job fit. There are currently over 500 part-time vacancies available for Career Trial, recommended for both caregivers and?back-to-work women.
  • Pointing out that childcare is a shared responsibility between both parents, she highlighted the recent increase in shared parental leave, and that the move towards more FWAs will enable fathers as well as mothers, to share caregiving responsibilities.

Flexible work arrangements come to the forefront

In July last year, the Government more than tripled the?Work-Life Grant (WLG) budget from $30 million to $100 million to encourage more companies to provide FWAs. Further, since its enhancement as of 1 July 2018, over 1,120 companies have come onboard WLG as at end December 2019.

SPS Low explained: "More importantly, companies that have put in place FWAs have been better positioned to implement flexible arrangements very quickly, especially in a time of crisis, like many members have said earlier.

When?COVID-19?emerged, companies that have adopted FWAs earlier, already had or could quickly put in place measures like ?flexitime?, ?flexiplace?, ?flexiload?, or telecommuting, staggered hours and shared job functions. This allowed them to minimise disruptions to their business as well as reduce the team?s exposure to the virus."

She cited the example of Kone, where a?flexiplace arrangement which lets its employees telecommute, thus enabling the company to continue its business operations without affecting productivity.

She further talked about the telecommuting trend: "In 2018, one in four employees required formal or ad hoc telecommuting, of which seven in 10 had access to it," noting that MOM?will continue to monitor such data, especially for business continuity planning when threats like COVID-19 strike.

Emerging stronger from the COVID-19 episode

In 2018, more than nine in 10 of employees work in companies that provide some form of work flexibility, up from about eight in 10, in 2013. In 2018, more than eight in 10 employees who required FWAs had access to the FWA that they needed ?an increase from seven in 10 in 2016.

SPS Low affirmed: "We hope that during this COVID-19 episode, more companies will adopt FWAs and recognise the advantages that such arrangements bring to their business and also their employees. As DPM Heng Swee Keat pointed out, every effort to ride out this storm makes a difference."

Work-life harmony: Citizens' Panel recommendations

Referring to the Citizens? Panel, comprising 55 Singaporeans from all walks of life, she brought up the topic of work-life harmony, and how it ties in to the intensified efforts on spurring the adoption of FWAs.

How will employers be spurred on to adopt more FWAs? She noted this will be done in two ways:

1.??Make It Easy? for companies to offer FWAs and work-life harmony (WLH) initiatives

  • Some sectors have unique characteristics which may lead to challenges in adopting FWAs. For instance, employees in hospitality and healthcare sectors are required to work shifts, and may not have access to FWAs or even staggered hours. Acknowledging these hurdles, sector-specific resources will be developed to facilitate the implementation of FWAs.
  • Through the Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP), sector-specific employer support groups, called Communities of Practice, for FWAs will be piloted. The HR professionals and senior managers from companies that have made FWAs work well for them can then share their best practices.
  • TAFEP?s website will be revamped to be the one-stop resource for everything to do with FWAs, for instance, consolidating all implementation guides, so it will make it easy for companies to adopt.
  • An online free-to-use employment contract builder to help employers include clauses on FWAs into their employees? contracts will be developed.
2. ?Make It Known? by raising awareness of not just FWAs but also WLH initiatives
  • Greater awareness of progressive practices through tools such as the national Human Capital Diagnostic Tool (HCDT) will be promoted.
  • To this end, TAFEP has started to grow a community of Work-Life Ambassadors to spread the word on FWAs and the benefits of WLH initiatives within and beyond the workplace.
  • Recognition of employers who are committed to WLH will be expanded. For example, for employers who have just started on their FWA journey, it can be quite daunting.
  • A basic FWA workshop which teaches employers how to start offering FWAs will be introduced, helping place them on a new Provisional Tripartite Standard on FWAs, and that will recognise their efforts in taking the first step.
An additional third step is to??Make it Accepted?, which was covered under Minister Josephine Teo's speech at PMO?s COS.

Photo / Low Yen Ling's Facebook

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