Returning back to Office? How has Covid-19 shaped our attitudes towards the workplace

June 9, 2022

Since 26 April 2022, the Singapore Government lifted and relaxed public safety measures which significantly applies to a wide range of daily activities. Many rejoiced as the lost normality over the last two years had finally made a comeback to our everyday yearnings. Since the office was made relevant again, here lies the dilemma: If we have survived the last 2 years working away from the office, what’s the deal with returning back to the office then?   We want to find that out with Singaporeans at large.  

Up to 49% of employed Singapore residents have adopted work remotely in 2020.

We launched a poll with OPPI in light of this announcement to perform a nifty pulse check on attitudes about returning back to office. For more accurate perceptions, we collaborated with InnProbe Insight to gather 1119 participants that make up a representative sample of Singapore’s population. We want to know if Singaporeans are truly happy about returning back to office and has workplace practices shifted due to the pandemic.

Shifts in attitudes

In a survey done in October 2020 with the Straits Times, it was the peak of the pandemic,  only 9% of respondents were willing to return to office. In this latest OPPI poll (carried out in April 2022), more than 65% of the respondents were willing to return to office. This is an significant increase in the number of people willing to return to office. Through the poll, we dived deeper on some of the sentiments shared amongst our prospective office dwellers.

7 out of 10 respondents have indicated that working from home is more economical and helps in reducing their expenses. 5 out of 10 respondents expressed concerns about contracting Covid-19. As the old saying goes: “Better to be safe than sorry”.  There were workers who were concerned about the virus despite the high vaccination rates in the nation. 

Having said that, being devoid of social interactions for such a prolonged period does attract workers to start going back to the office. 7 out of 10 respondents were looking forward to interacting and socialising with their peers again, and 8 out of 10 respondents felt that work-related communications would be better if done face-to-face in the office. 

Employers’ mindset

Furthermore, 5 of 10 participants were also wary about being penalised by their employers should they not return to office. It seems to show that many employees feared that their bosses may think like Elon Musk in wanting their employees to work from office or else…In our poll, we further dived into the mindsets of our employers and asked them what they think. 

For employers or in senior managerial positions, they were queried about their worry, particularly when their employees are operating remotely and out-of-sight. It was revealed that more than half of the employers have indicated that without physical presence and proximity, it is difficult to gauge what their employees are doing. This proved to show that employers were still fixated on a work-from-office environment. 

 

Many factors come into play in this dynamic between employees and employers. We would wonder if it was due to a sense of disconnection, lacking in trust, or simply hindered communications. One would argue that many aspects of workplace communication and coordination could be done so much more effectively if conducted face-to-face traditionally. 

The pandemic has shown that many types of jobs can be done remotely and perhaps more effectively. Organisations could definitely look into structured processes to delegate and review work performances remotely. Inevitably, workers had been entrusted to operate remotely for the recent years, despite being out of necessity. The takeaway would be to carry forward the good faith and practices to a world that has become more receptive of remote working arrangements. A good example would be how remote working arrangements had benefited the disabled too.     

Observations and conclusion

OPPI’s research had shown that workers were getting more receptive towards returning to office. We were also glad that our research were similar to the findings from Institute of Policy Studies – Singapore (IPS). IPS has also published a report that backs the idea that flexible work practices should be the way forward

The Covid-19 pandemic might have disrupted how we operate at work, but the experience had provided the impetus to look at work arrangements more dynamically.  Worldwide, employees were threatening to quit if they go back to office. Employees and employers can learn from the perspectives shared in the poll to understand each other better so as to balance the organisational needs versus the employees’ wellbeing. That is the common ground that OPPI strives to achieve.

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