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Human resource (HR) manager Sandra Chua Bee Yen, 44, reaches Lee Wenyong & Co at Paya Lebar Square where she works only after sending her kids to school and stretching out at a morning yoga class.
Meanwhile, Ms Chua’s colleague, Ms Annie Tai, is able to work on HR analytics reports and handle other HR matters from home — before squeezing in a manicure session in the evening.
But the 24-year-old who works full-time as a HR officer at Lee Wenyong & Co isn’t receiving the pampering. The budding manicurist will instead be creating nail art for an acquaintance. She does not want to miss any opportunity to pursue her passion and hone her craft.
Ms Tai is one of the approximately 16 staff — half of the employees — at Lee Wenyong & Co who do not show up at the office on a regular basis. Not that the firm’s lead partner Mr Max Lee Wenyong minds.
Working from home, cafes or co-share spaces rented from workplace solutions firm Regus, these employees have helped build Mr Lee’s four-year-old firm into one of the more successful providers of HR shared services.
SWCs are located at public libraries in Toa Payoh, Geylang and Jurong (above).
These co-share spaces, or pay-per-use flexible workspaces, are located island-wide, including at public libraries in Toa Payoh, Geylang East and Jurong. The workspaces at public libraries are called Smart Work Centres (SWCs), and were set up by the Infocomm Development Authority in collaboration with the National Library Board in 2014. SWCs are run by Regus, and offer amenities such as meeting rooms and private workstations. Services like Wi-Fi, video-conferencing and photocopying are also available.
“Working at Lee Wenyong & Co offers me the best of both worlds. I get to earn a stable basic salary while following my passion,” said Ms Tai, the HR officer.
She added: “My colleagues and managers have been very supportive. I’m very lucky.”
Linked by technology
Meeting room with video-conferencing facilities at SWCs.
While co-workers are geographically dispersed, they are linked by technology. Meetings take place on Google Hangouts. Documents from clients are scanned and uploaded to the firm’s cloud network, enabling online collaborations among employees in different locations.
“High performers want to be trusted. I don’t have to see them to know that they are working. If I don’t get complaints from our clients, that means everything is okay,” said Mr Lee, who prefers to rely on trust, not control, of employees.
His firm handles various tasks — from HR functions and accounting to tax advisory — for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the food and beverage, retail and construction sectors.
“Ultimately, it’s the work quality that matters,” he said.
A paradigm shift
This was not a conviction that developed overnight. Stints at two multinational companies lasting eight years have shaped Mr Lee’s belief that work is more “a state of mind” and less a physical location.
The 35-year-old has been reimagining the office and reconfiguring work spaces since starting the firm in 2012. The result is a bold shift away from the traditional model and this might just become the standard for SMEs in the near future.
Flexibility has been incorporated in the company’s culture to address challenges faced by the Singapore employee as well as attract talent from a changing workforce that now includes older workers and millennials.
A six-hour workday offers employees control over work schedules and minimises work-life conflicts. They are free to work where and when they prefer, as long as the work gets done. Dealing with rush-hour woes, difficulty in finding time to take care of children or ageing parents, and running errands are things of the past.
“If my staff can’t take care of their family and themselves, they won’t be able take care of the business for me,” said Mr Lee.
Reaping the benefits
And the company is reaping the benefits of focusing on results rather than time spent at the office.
The use of co-share spaces helps the firm conserve cash flow and keep costs down. In addition, it received reimbursements of S$25,000 from the Government WorkPro scheme in 2014 for implementing flexi-work arrangements and family-friendly work practices throughout the workplace.
Smart Work Centres (SWCs) were set up by the Infocomm Development Authority in collaboration with the National Library Board in 2014, and operated by Regus.
The flexibility has also proven crucial in the recruitment and retention of employees. The diverse workplace that Lee Wenyong & Co has become is made up of experienced baby boomers and working mums, as well as energetic and creative 20-something millennials.
“I don’t insist that my co-workers stay from 9am to 6pm, but I find them working longer hours. They want to reciprocate the trust I have in them and are very motivated,” said Mr Lee.
Running an office of high performers on flexi-work arrangements is not without its snags. At times, employees maintain a gruelling pace and work for far too long, said Mr Lee. To pry his staff from work and their work space, employee-friendly initiatives such as monthly get-togethers are organised to prevent burn-out.
The reverse is also true. According to Mr Lee, he has had to tell those who abused the flexi-work arrangement and showed poor performance to leave. The firm relies on a rigorous hiring process that is intended to weed out all but the most suitable employees.
Despite the potential pitfalls, Mr Lee remains convinced of the value of his creation, and offers other business owners a perspective informed by first-hand experience.
“In the next three to five years, more companies will be forced to adopt something similar to what we are doing, whether or not they like it. Owners must be prepared to let go and trust their employees,” said Mr Lee.