8 in 10 in Singapore want to work from home or have more flexibility

Daily commutes and fear of getting Covid-19 among top concerns of those surveyed

Just one in 10 wanted to return to the office full-time.
Just one in 10 wanted to return to the office full-time.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

After several months of having to work from home due to Covid-19, the novelty might have worn off, but the practice seems to have caught on.

Eight out of 10 workers now say they prefer to work from home or have flexible working arrangements, a survey commissioned by The Straits Times of nearly 1,800 people has found.

Just one in 10 wanted to return to the office full-time, while the rest said they were already back in the office before the Government's announcement that more employees will be allowed to return to the office from Sept 28.

But the top complaint among Singaporean workers about having to return to the workplace was the resumption of their daily commute. They are also concerned about the safety of their work environments, and afraid of being exposed to Covid-19.

Asked about their biggest challenge going back to the office, words and phrases that appeared prominently included "public transport", "mask" and "many people".

Three out of 10 felt wearing a mask in the office was uncomfortable and distracting.

Asked what work arrangements they would prefer, four in 10 wanted to split their time between the office and their home, while slightly more than four in 10 said they wanted to continue working from home.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Brandon Koh, a lecturer in the human resource management programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, said people may take some time to adjust to returning to the office.

Returning to the workplace could also result in a loss of autonomy for individuals, he added. "Whether working from the office is more productive will vary depending on the job and individual, and employers should balance this consideration with employees' desire for autonomy and its benefits."

The survey, conducted by crowdsourcing platform OPPi, also asked the 1,772 respondents for their top complaint about working from home.

They cited working longer hours, or doing work outside their usual office hours as pet peeves.

Some said distractions from children or family members were an issue when working from home, while others pointed out that it was difficult to convince their bosses of their productivity.

Just under half of the respondents felt that working from home helped them to save money, while seven in 10 said working from home improved their mental health.

About half the respondents felt that they would be penalised by their bosses if they expressed their preference to work from home.

Nine out of 10 respondents were aged between 18 and 54, with 68 per cent in the private sector and 20 per cent in the public sector. The remainder worked in other fields, such as non-profit organisations or voluntary welfare groups.

Survey respondents were most divided over two questions, in which they were asked if they felt that the Government's "return to office" rules were difficult to follow, and if they were confident that their employer would provide a safe working environment.

Roughly 26 per cent of people felt that the new rules were tough to follow, with 22 per cent disagreeing and 18 per cent undecided. The rest did not answer.

Meanwhile, 25 per cent felt that their employers could provide a safe environment, while 19 per cent disagreed. The rest were either undecided or did not respond to the question.

One of those who prefer a hybrid arrangement - with two or three days spent working from home and the rest of the time in the office - is Ms Evie Lim, 34, who works in the finance industry.

She finds that working from home has boosted her productivity because it allows her to start work right after getting out of bed. Even so, she misses some things about her office environment.

Ms Lim went back to the office for half a day earlier this month, to help prepare for a work event.

"It was nice to be back in the office," she said. "But the challenge was that we had to put on a mask the whole time.

"I really miss the time when the office was full of people."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2020, with the headline '8 in 10 want to work from home or have more flexibility'. Print Edition | Subscribe