Wish you could work from home? Here's how to know if it's right for you

Wish you could work from home? Here's how to know if it's right for you

CNA Lifestyle takes a look at the job sectors that are more open to flexible work arrangements in Singapore, and the factors that make or break such work arrangements in the long run.

Working home bed
Don't get too comfortable when working from home. (Photo: Unsplash/Designecologist)

Hands up, if you have fantasised about working from the couch at home or breaking free from the nine-to-five routine.

No more waking up at an insanely early hour. No mad rush for the bathroom. And certainly no need to brave the crushing peak-hour crowd on the MRT or bus. 

Working from home and other formal flexible work arrangements (FWAs) – such as part-time and flexi-time work, staggered hours, job sharing and compressed work weeks – certainly look rosy to employees. 

And healthier, too. Peak-hour commuting, one of the biggest bugbears for office workers, has been found to increase levels in blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, as well as heightened anxiety and depression risks. Not a good way to start your day.

Jurong East crowds NSL
Train delay - the last thing you want to hear when commuting. (File photo: Jeremy Long) 

In fact, people hate commuting so much, a study by the University of West of England found that a 20-minute increase in travelling time was perceived to be as bad for job satisfaction as a 19-per-cent pay cut. 

But what about employers? How receptive are companies in Singapore when it comes to providing their employees with FWAs?

YOUR BOSS WOULD RATHER YOU TAKE UNPLANNED LEAVE

As it turns out, employers would rather their staff take unplanned leave than put in place formal FWAs (like letting them work at home for extended periods) but with core days or hours spent in the office, according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

To afford staff the flexibility to attend to personal matters, 77 per cent of establishments surveyed provided unplanned time-off or ad-hoc teleworking (using information and communication technologies to work from home on a case-by-case basis) in 2016. 

This was up from 70 per cent in 2015, according to the latest 2016 report by the MOM's Manpower Research and Statistics Department. In contrast, the number of establishments that offer at least one formal FWA remained unchanged at 47 per cent since 2014.

Why are bosses more willing to approve unplanned leave than institutionalise arrangements that let employees work from home, for instance? 

Office workers
Some bosses want to see their staff come into the office to work. (Photo: Unsplash/Alex Kotliarskyi)

“Many jobs require the staff’s physical appearance at work. In other cases, being in the workplace is still important for local companies,” said senior lecturer Wu Pei Chuan from the Department of Management and Organisation at National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School. 

Wu added: “Managers also worry about how to monitor workers’ performance by releasing employees to work in various arrangements. They worry that employees may abuse the FWA." 

That said, there are pros for the employer when it comes to FWA: In the same MOM report, resignation rates were found to be lower in companies that offered “a larger number of formal FWAs to their employees”.

IS YOUR INDUSTRY FWA-FRIENDLY?

Whether the company you work for will adopt FWAs depends on the industry it is in. According to Wu, the industry most open to FWAs is the community, social and personal services sector. "Their job nature is applicable for them to do so," she said. 

"For example, insurance agents are highly flexible with their work hours as long as they deliver results. In fact, in intensive work environments, such as hotels and hospitals, the organisations tend to be flexible to help their staff adjust to the round-the-clock work," said Wu. 

Platelet transfusion at TTSH
In intensive work environments, such as hotels and hospitals, the organisations tend to be flexible to help their staff adjust to the round-the-clock work. (File photo)

Other industries that are receptive to FWAs, she said, include accommodation and food services; information and communications; financial and insurance services; and administrative and support services. 

But even if your company lets you work from home or gives you the option for flexi-time, work satisfaction may still elude you.

"Are you interested in your work in the first place?" asked Jolene Hwee, founder and clinical director of WomanCare Psychological Services. "If you are, the arrangement – be it nine-to-five or work from home – would not be your primary driver."

And as lovely as working from home sounds, it is not for everyone. Here are some questions to consider before making the switch.

ARE YOU OKAY WITH WORKING BEYOND REGULAR OFFICE HOURS?

The key advantage of a FWA is it lets you play to your strength. "Not everyone takes well to a nine-to-five routine," said Hwee, who is also a psychologist. 

“For instance, if you're not an early riser, you may find yourself more productive if you start work later in the morning. Some people may also take better to an intermittent routine, such as alternating every one-hour of work with a 15-minute break," said Hwee. 

On the other hand, if you need the structure of an office and fixed working hours to better manage your time, a FWA may not be for you. "For some, the fixed timing lets them get off work physically and mentally," said Hwee. "You will know that a FWA doesn't work for you if you feel burned out."

DO YOU HAVE AN APPROPRIATE SPACE TO WORK IN?

This space should be comfortable, feel positive and be brightly lit, said Hwee. You should look forward to going there.

Another important point to note if you're working from home is to designate your work space from your rest space. That means no working in bed. "Working in bed blurs the line between rest and work, and can affect your sleep cycle," said Hwee.

Take your cue from media mogul Arianna Huffington, who doesn't bring her mobile phones into her bedroom. Instead, she puts them to bed – quite literally – by tucking them into a charging station that looks like a bed.


WILL YOU BE DISTRACTED IF YOU WORK FROM HOME?

It can be a double whammy for parents to work from home. One, your children may not understand why you can't play with them or pay them attention when you are actually home. Two, you may feel guilty for ignoring your children, said Hwee, who is a mother of a nine-year-old and works from home twice a week. 

Parent work home flexible work arrangement
If Mummy is in the room, it means she is working and cannot be disturbed. (Photo: Pixabay/carolkk)

"Kids at different ages adjust differently to parents who work from home. Young children below seven years old may not understand, so you'll need to set some rules. For instance, if Mummy is in the room, it means she is working and cannot be disturbed," suggested Hwee.

As for parents, remember that you need to focus on your work. "You won't be productive if you attend to your child's need every 20 minutes. Reinforce the boundaries you've set," she said.

If the home situation is too distracting, taking your laptop to a cafe or co-share space may be more conducive. 

ARE YOU SELF-MOTIVATED?

The comforts of home can be counter-productive on days when you don't feel motivated to work. To help frame your mind for a day of work at home, devise a pre-work ritual to shift the gears in your mind from sleep to work mode, said Hwee. 

Work home dress up
(Photo: Unsplash/Ruthson Zimmerman)

"For instance, put on your contact lenses, wear lipstick or pop into your regular coffee joint for a cup of coffee. Do things that were part of your going-to-work routine."

Hwee said it also helps to dress up even if you're working from home. "You don't have to put on a shirt and pants but changing into something other than a T-shirt and boxer shorts can signal to your brain that you're in work mode."

CAN YOU STOP YOURSELF FROM CHECKING EMAILS AND WORK MESSAGES?

The flexibility to work beyond the regular office hours is not without its drawbacks. You could end up working non-stop, said Hwee.

For this reason, the balance between work and play is even more important for people in FWAs than those who work regular hours. If you have to work on weekends, Hwee advised talking to your boss about letting you take a mid-week day off, for instance.

Source: CNA/bk(mm)

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