askST Jobs: What flexi-work requests must employers fairly consider under new rules?

As featured in The Straits Times

Woman working
The guidelines adopt a broad definition of flexible working arrangements that employers must fairly consider and be open to offering. PHOTO: ST FILE

Q: What are the different types of flexi-work my employer must fairly consider under the Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement Requests?

A: The tripartite guidelines unveiled on April 15 adopt a broad definition of flexible working arrangements that employers must fairly consider and be open to offering.

They encompass flexi-place, flexi-time and flexi-load arrangements.

Flexi-place arrangements allow employees to choose to work elsewhere from a designated workplace, or have no designated workplace to begin with.

Flexi-time arrangements entail staff working flexibly at different timings with no changes to total work hours and work load.

People on flexi-load arrangements generally take up different work loads, with pay adjusted to match.

The Straits Times examines some key forms of flexible working arrangements under each category that employers need to fairly consider when requests are made.

Flexi-place

Remote working or telecommuting

Remote work has been thrust into the spotlight in recent years due to its widespread adoption during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It involves employees working from somewhere other than a designated office, often their home, for some or all of the time.

One worker who has taken to this arrangement is Ms Cheryl Wong, 38. The mother of two sons aged eight and 11 has been working fully remotely as creative head at marketing agency Boing since earlier in March.

The arrangement allowed her to take up a full-time job for the first time in eight years, after she had to resign from a previous full-time position as a graphic designer to help care for her elder son, who was diagnosed with autism.

“I want to be present to assist with schoolwork and to be there for my children’s milestone moments,” Ms Wong says.

“Employers were not willing to hire someone working remotely (full-time). Therefore, I had to work with companies that required freelancers without (the) benefits (given to) a full-time worker, which was challenging.”

Boing chief executive Ailsa Tan says the company, which has eight staff, offers all employees a fully remote work arrangement.

“When employees are empowered and provided with a flexible work environment, they are able to be more focused. Contrary to popular belief, I have actually witnessed increased productivity,” she notes.

However, she adds that remote work is not suitable for individuals who lack self-motivation or companies that are unable to effectively communicate their business needs and goals.

Some employers have adopted “work from anywhere” policies where workers can telecommute, even from abroad.

However, caution is warranted.

Employment lawyer Goh Seow Hui, a partner at Bird & Bird ATMD, said: “From a tax perspective, it is possible that the employee is subject to income tax in two different jurisdictions on the basis that his income is sourced from both places.

“The employee interested in working remotely in another country must also prove that he or she has the right or ability to reside and work in that country from an immigration viewpoint.”

Some larger employers may opt to provide multiple compounds available for staff so they have a shorter commute.

The Ministry of Defence is one such employer. It has offered secured shared working spaces since April 2021, under a “work-near-home” arrangement that has proved popular.

The latest of the four spaces was transformed from the former Tampines Regional Library and opened in October 2023.

Flexi-time

Flexi-shift

This arrangement allows shift workers to flexibly select shifts that accommodate their other commitments. This could include swopping of shifts between team members.

Fast-food chain McDonald’s, which is a major employer of shift workers here, offers this option.

Flexi-hours

Flexi-hour arrangements allow employees to work a certain number of hours over an accounting period, such as a week, according to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep).

Employees can work at any time of the day, as long as they complete the stipulated hours within the work week.

For instance, a staff member could split his working time into multiple chunks in a day, while undertaking other commitments like caregiving in between.

Flexi-hours are more common in jobs where activities are not dependent on meeting colleagues or clients at specific times of the day, Tafep notes.

One employer that has approved flexi-hour arrangements is online pharmacy Glovida-Rx.

Working mothers at the company can start work at the office after dropping their children off at a childcare centre, before leaving at 1pm to pick their children up in the afternoon, and working from home for the rest of the day, says co-founder Winthrop Wong.

Nonetheless, he adds that the type of flexible working arrangement that enables an employee to work efficiently and productively can depend on the job role. For instance, the firm’s operations and logistics staff are required to ensure deliveries and warehouse processes run smoothly on-site.

Staggered working hours

Employees may work the same number of hours in a day, but at staggered start and finish times.

This means that one employee could start and end work earlier, while a colleague does so later.

Tafep recommends that employers carve out “flexible bands”, each lasting for at least two hours, in a work day when putting this flexible work arrangement in place.

Employees should be allowed to vary start and end times within these bands. However, bosses may also specify a “core time” during which employees must work.

Compressed work schedule

An employee who works longer hours over fewer days for the same pay and more rest days a week can be said to be on a compressed work schedule.

Ms Kwok May Leng, global head of market development at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says compressed schedules are one example of a relatively more progressive and innovative form of flexible working arrangements.

“In general, it can be more challenging for small and medium-size enterprises than multinationals in rolling out these flexible working arrangements, as they may have less resources to do so,” she says.

Still, she adds that smaller firms have fewer people to consult, so an agreement may be reached relatively easily, depending on the organisation and the nature of work involved.

Ms Kwok notes: “It is important to have parity of opportunity across roles, and for all employers to still explore the range of types of flexibility, even if their resources are limited.”

She also advises employers to treat a flexible working request as a dialogue rather than a yes-or-no decision: “Consider using trial periods to test out flexible working arrangements, and measure and evaluate outcomes.”

One company that has gone even further is public relations consultancy Grayling Singapore.

Full-time creative staff who have served for over a year at the firm get to have a shorter 4.5-day work week.

Moreover, they do so without taking a pay cut or having increased hours worked per day, says managing director Danny Tan.

This is above and beyond what the guidelines cover.

“In practical terms, the number of hours people have worked has dropped (from 40 hours), but what they get done in the remaining 36 hours of the week more than makes up for it.

“It works for us because we deliver a creative service... and we find that when our people come in ready to hit the ground running, they are then able to bring their best.”

Mr Tan adds that the move was inspired by the shift at his company’s Austrian office to a four-day work week.

“The conversation taking place there was not about ‘should we or should we not’, but ‘how do we do it’. The conversation on flexi-work is much more mature there in Europe than in Singapore.”

Flexi-load

Part-time work

Tafep defines part-time work as a flexible working arrangement where employees work reduced hours on a regular basis.

Part-time employees typically work fewer than 35 hours a week, and this includes those who work less than a full day all week or work only on some days.

Job sharing

Two or more part-time employees share the responsibilities of one full-time employee under this arrangement.

Job-sharing employees usually work at different times during the day or week, or on alternate weeks.

This arrangement may involve a time of overlap to maintain continuity, Tafep notes.

HSBC offers job sharing. Mr Mukul Anand, its head of human resources here, says the arrangement is broadly available across the company globally, though no one in Singapore has taken it up yet.

“We expect that a level of flexible working is achievable for everyone as flexibility can cover changes to how, when and/or where a member of staff works, which may be different to the default working arrangements for their role.”

Mr Anand also notes that HSBC Singapore’s flexible working arrangements will remain unchanged as they are already aligned with the new guidelines.

To view the full article, head over to The Straits Times.

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