Robot helps firm be family friendly

The firm Mr Chai and wife Stephanie set up is built on family-friendly measures.
The firm Mr Chai and wife Stephanie set up is built on family-friendly measures.PHOTO: 3E ACCOUNTING

Husband-wife team lauded for helping employees strike work-life balance

Their first child was to be born when Mr Lawrence Chai and his wife Stephanie quit work at an accounting firm in 2011 in search of better work-life balance.

Unsuccessful after a two-month hunt, they decided to set up their own, 3E Accounting, built on flexible work hours and family-friendly measures.

The two-person team that started at their Ang Mo Kio home has since grown to a pool of over 20 workers - plus a moving robot that allows employees working from home to roam virtually around its office in Goldhill Plaza and have face-to-face chats with people in the office, like they would if they were on Skype.

The "telepresence robot" - bought this year from California-based Double Robotics - is made up of a screen attached to a wheeled device, and allows the person working from home to meet clients and colleagues at the office via video-conferencing.

The robot - controlled by 3E Accounting's senior human resources consultant Roxanne Lu, at home on her second month of maternity leave - led Mrs Josephine Teo, Senior Minister of State (Prime Minister's Office), on a tour of the office yesterday.

Mrs Teo cited 3E Accounting as a firm that has succeeded at helping staff strike a balance between work and family, and urged companies to do more to support millennial families. "I hope we can share these examples so that others can be encouraged to do the same," she said.

Besides investing in technology like the robot, 3E Accounting also offers new fathers three weeks of paternity leave, a room where staff can leave their children, and flexible work hours.

Said Mrs Teo: "These are very encouraging new ways in which millennial families are trying to marry their aspirations for career advancement as well as the desire for quality time with family.

"I find the determination here very refreshing and inspiring."

Mr Chai, 3E Accounting's managing director, is most proud of the $6,400 robot. Its mobility gives it an edge over video-conferencing, said the 31-year-old, adding that "the person working from home doesn't have to feel like they're not part of the office".

Workers aged 21 to 30 make up almost half the firm, a profile Mr Chai - whose wife is pregnant with their second child - attributes to its focus on work-life balance. The turnover rate has dropped, from around 38 per cent in 2013 to about 20 per cent, while annual revenue has been on a steady rise: over $3million last year, up from $1.5million in 2014.

The figures show family-friendly measures pay off, Mrs Teo said. "If other SMEs think (they cannot) do likewise, 3E Accounting provides a very good counter example."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Robot helps firm be family friendly'. Print Edition | Subscribe