Forum: Look into possible adverse effects of remote work

Ms Marietta Koh's concerns (Up to people to make enlightened choices about work, May 7) line up perfectly with Manpower Minister Tan See Leng's call to support the Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements (Flexible work arrangements, gig work among issues tripartism must tackle: Panel, May 6).

The pandemic led to a paradigm shift in how people think about work, as working from home became the norm. Attitudes towards working in the office have changed dramatically. A survey in February found that 41 per cent of workers in Singapore would rather keep working remotely than receive a bigger bonus.

But there remains a presupposition that those working remotely are not as efficient as those in the office. This lack of trust in employees, in turn, has an impact on whether those who are offered a choice choose to return to the office.

Working from home may also disadvantage women more than men. According to a New Zealand study, women still had to bear the lion's share of housework and childcare while working from home during the pandemic.

Dr Tan noted that locally, about 260,000 women aged 25 to 64 are outside the workforce. How many of these women are in this position because they are unable to cope with such expectations while trying to manage work, household chores, and caring for children and elderly family members?

Overwork has often been cited as a side effect of remote work. A study found that one in two employees here has been working longer hours since the pandemic began due to reasons such as difficulties drawing boundaries between work and personal life.

Ms Koh rightly pointed out that while an individual has to take charge of his career and not allow himself to be trampled on, this can be very difficult, especially for younger workers.

For example, if I am working in a team of six, and my five colleagues all acquiesce to our superior's request to work on public holidays or respond to non-urgent messages outside of working hours, would I not be seen as an outlier and "slacker" if I try to draw clear boundaries between my needs and the organisation's?

It does not take long for such unhealthy work habits to spill over to other teams and eventually evolve into the prevailing culture.

The pandemic has taken a huge toll on the mental health of some gig workers. It would be worthwhile to study the adverse effects of remote working, lest it produce an entire generation of overworked and burnt out workers.

I look forward to the set of guidelines for flexible work arrangements that the authorities are currently developing.

Sophia Tan Chay Lee

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