Four to five years – that’s how long Education Minister Lawrence Wong thinks the pandemic will last before we can even look to a “post-COVID-19 normal”. To some, this estimate may seem far too conservative, considering the vaccine’s rapid development and Singapore’s plans to make it available for all.
However, with COVID-19 still affecting hundreds of millions around the globe, it’s safe to say that the pandemic isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
But what does this mean for Singapore’s workforce? Truth be told, when work-from-home arrangements were first rolled out in February 2020, many expected to return to the office by the new year. Only a handful thought it would stretch for longer.
As we approach our one-year anniversary of working from home, there’s no better time to take stock of the current arrangements thus far and reflect on what has worked, what can be improved, and what should be tossed out.
Most employees aren’t satisfied – but decision-makers don’t know it
Lark and Milieu Insight’s recent study on 1,000 Singapore professionals, managers, and executives (PMEs) revealed that 94 per cent want flexible work to stay. This sentiment is also consistent across all age groups, industries, and job levels, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering its slew of benefits such as the autonomy to plan your schedule, saving time and money on commuting, and spending more time with family at home.
However, does this mean that employees are satisfied with their remote work setup? Lark’s survey findings suggest otherwise. Only one in five PMEs are very satisfied with their current remote and online collaboration arrangements, while 22 per cent are neutral and 11 per cent reported feeling dissatisfied.
What’s more, companies’ decision-makers aren’t aware of this dissatisfaction either. The study findings show an apparent mismatch in satisfaction and perceived adoption among different levels of employees. Forty per cent of decision-makers (director level and above) said that their team is very well adapted to using collaboration tools compared to 25 per cent of all respondents.
Personal bias and lack of exposure: possible reasons for the disconnect
One possible reason for this disconnect between senior leaders and junior to mid-level employees is that the former were more actively involved in implementing these online collaboration arrangements and, thus, are more likely to view these changes positively.
Think about it. If you were personally involved in starting a new initiative in your company, you would also be inclined to believe that it positively impacted your colleagues. This is because you would’ve likely spent hours researching, planning, and setting up this initiative, and hope that your efforts led to an improvement.
Another possibility is that senior leaders may not be exposed to these changes in their daily work compared to junior and mid-level staff. Whether it’s holding video conferences, co-editing documents on the shared drive, or communicating with one another on messenger, junior and mid-level employees who use these collaboration tools more frequently would run into issues or difficulties, and hence view them less positively.
Regardless of the reason, this disconnect further highlights the importance of having regular check-ins and feedback collection to ensure that senior management is in touch with the realities on the ground.
Deciding on the right digital collaboration tool
So, you’ve learnt that there’s a discrepancy in satisfaction and perceived adoption of your company’s online collaboration tools. What’s next? With so many options available in the market, how do you decide which is right for your team?
The first step is understanding which features your team uses most often. According to the Lark study, the top three tasks among Singapore PMEs are chat/messaging, video meetings, and emails. With the rise of remote collaboration, the study also found that Singapore PMEs use video meetings (94 per cent), file search (90 per cent), and messaging (80 per cent) for up to half of their day.
Identifying these frequently used features will help you select tools that best fit your team’s needs. Are you always uploading and sharing files? A shared drive with large or unlimited storage space might be a top priority. Is instant messaging your team’s go-to communication method? Then perhaps having a built-in chat feature is critical.
With different teams prioritising different features, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Selecting a digital collaboration tool that’s customisable and built around your team’s requirements is ideal. Importantly, remember to include your team in this decision-making process to help reduce dissatisfaction in the long term.
Beyond ensuring productivity, we need to prioritise enjoyability
2020 was a challenging year for many as we were forced to stay indoors and adjust to a new way of life and work. In these isolating times, companies need to look beyond efficiency and productivity and start prioritising enjoyability at work. With mental well-being a rising concern in Singapore, there is a greater need to ensure a positive work experience even when we’re not physically together.
Thirty-nine per cent of PMEs reported that having the right collaboration tool can make work more enjoyable – a sentiment shared across all age groups, but most strongly felt among Millennials (25-39 years old). Enjoyability and satisfaction are increasingly becoming priorities among employees and they actively seek companies that can offer that.
How can employers make work enjoyable? For starters, choosing a digital collaboration suite that seamlessly integrates the various functions like messenger, video conference, docs and more, can reduce the friction and frustration of working in teams remotely. For instance, how often do you get frustrated when you can’t find a particular file, document, or email? Consolidating the most frequently used tools onto a single platform makes working and collaborating much more enjoyable.
My team and I are big advocates of bringing joy to work. Happy workers are productive workers, and employee’s happiness can lead to other benefits such as customer satisfaction and success, job satisfaction, and employee retention – it’s a win for all.
Overall, remote working tools play a huge role in shaping our work experience today, allowing us to communicate, collaborate and create from the comfort of our own homes. And while Singapore is poised to offer flexible work arrangements for the long term, there is still a need to ensure that employees are equipped with the right tools to foster a positive and enjoyable work environment.
Leaders and decision-makers should also collect feedback from their employees regularly to make sure that their remote work setup meets their evolving needs.
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