With most workplaces shut to stem the spread of Covid-19 during the circuit breaker period, the importance of flexible work arrangements and the use of technology to facilitate remote working came under the spotlight like never before.
Now, as Singapore has entered phase two of reopening its economy, working from home continues to remain the default for most employees.
In the third episode of the askST@NLB podcast series, The Straits Times' manpower correspondent Joanna Seow, along with Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem and Singapore National Employers Federation executive director Sim Gim Guan, considered these new ways of working, as well as the sustainability of the current workforce.
"It took us a crisis to get us going in the direction (of greater digitalisation)," said Ms Seow, adding that this could bring about "transformation in essential service sectors like healthcare, cleaning and public transport". Jobs in these sectors will soon become less labour intensive, owing to telemedicine, robots and autonomous vehicles.
Mr Sim said companies should transform the way they do business. "They will need to upskill and reskill their workers, so that they can take on new jobs or new ways of doing their job," he added.
Aside from acquiring skills in information and communication technology, employees should equip themselves with relevant "analytical, conceptual and evaluative skills", along with interpersonal skills that could help improve their employability, said Mr Sim.
By leveraging technology and redesigning work processes, Singapore will be able to focus on productivity and reduce its reliance on both foreign and local manpower. This is pertinent since the citizen working-age population is expected to shrink from around this year.
To address this, Singapore should "tap older workers, as well as those who are economically inactive", explained Mr Sim. This is where flexible work arrangements will prove crucial.
Many older workers tend to favour part-time work. Those who are economically inactive mainly comprise female workers who have exited the workforce for family and caregiving reasons. Hence, having flexi-work arrangements and schemes like the Professional Conversion Programme could ease them back into the workforce.
Ms Low introduced the idea of "productive longevity" - that living longer entails having people "work longer to ensure (their) retirement adequacy".
"When more services can be delivered digitally or virtually, biases like age, looks, nationality and geographical location get diminished, so people in their 60s or 70s who want to remain active and productive can continue to do so," she said.
NEXT EPISODE ON F&B INDUSTRY
The fourth episode of the askST@NLB podcast series, slated for July 3, will feature Straits Times senior food correspondent Wong Ah Yoke and hotelier-restaurateur Loh Lik Peng.
It is titled: The new normal in restaurant dining. The episode will examine how the Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the food and beverage landscape in Singapore.
Readers can send in their questions for the speakers by 6pm on June 28 at str.sg/JPXG.
In the meantime, in order to ensure that flexible work arrangements remain sustainable, especially working from home, a relationship of trust has to be established between the supervisor and the employee. Ms Low stressed that supervisors should seek to understand the challenges of older employees "and provide them with the assurance that (they) will walk the journey with them to have them accustomed to the new way of work".
The 25-minute podcast, which is part of a collaboration between ST and the National Library Board, was released yesterday and is available for free on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, the ST Facebook page, radio station Money FM 89.3 and at str.sg/JWfR.
The talks were previously held at the Central Public Library in Victoria Street but they have now become a podcast series recorded remotely in the light of safe distancing measures to guard against Covid-19.