This commentary was contributed by Timothy Ho, Managing Editor of DollarsAndSense. Drop us a message to share your thoughts on entrepreneurship, the Singapore startup scene, or the gig economy.
The last three months have been challenging for us at DollarsAndSense. Unlike some others, we were fortunate that we didn’t have to worry about needing to reduce our team size or to deal with a slowdown in our business. One day, these problems will exist for us, but like what Aragorn said in Lord of the Rings at The Black Gate, “it’s not this day.”
But similar to most other companies, we have to deal with a changing work environment. My team and I no longer share a common workplace even though we continue working for the same company and share a common purpose.
When DollarsAndSense first started hiring full-time employee (I was the first back in 2015), we were always quick to stress to potential hires that we were NOT a work-from-home company. For us, being in the office promotes content creativity, product innovation, and most importantly, enhances communication. Being in the office also helped us to be more accountable to one another, on both good and bad decisions.
That said, all of us in the team had, over the years, enjoyed our share of having a job that was flexible enough to allow us to continue working even when we were not in the office. Some roles, like writing, are pretty independent. Like a professional boxer, your coach (i.e. editor) can guide you, but ultimately, you will always be in the ring on your own.
This is why weeks before circuit breaker started, we already decided that our employees will work-from-home.
Today, we decided that this will continue indefinitely.
We hope it’s by choice.
We all love choices. If you force someone to go out on a date, it won’t be enjoyable. If you give that person a choice to go out on a date, with a person he chooses at a place they both agree on, he will enjoy the (same) date much more.
I hope that choosing to work from home will be a choice that we get to make in the future, rather than one which was forced upon us.
To make it clear, the company will still have an office space (likely a small one) situated within the CBD. This is important because we have employees who may still go into town on certain days to catch up with clients and I will hate for them to have to find a café to work from. Others, such as my co-founder Dinesh, also prefers working from the office.
To paraphrase a quote from Twitter – the office will be opened when we (the government and the company) are ready. When that happens, our people can choose to come in as and when they want to. It will no longer be compulsory to be physically present in the office.
However, this may be a choice we don’t always get to make.
We are not going to celebrate this decision because there is nothing to celebrate. When I shared this with my team this morning, I wasn’t the bearer of good news. I was merely letting them know that the future of our workplace, for better or worse, was going to be different from what we were used to. And it’s a change that we need to start embracing.
While I think it’s good that companies such as Twitter have come out to say that their employees can now work from home (or anywhere else), what many people don’t realize is that this debate goes beyond just whether it’s better to work-from-home or the office. Rather, it’s a clear indication that both companies and her employees need to start preparing for a future workplace that is going to be different from what we are used to.
In case you didn’t realize. Your bedroom is now your new office; your living room is now your new hotdesk area; your kitchen is where you take private phone calls and conduct zoom meetings; your kids and parents are now your lunch buddies.
To transit, companies and their employees need to relook the way they look at things
Certain perks are no longer relevant: Transport and entertainment allowances are no longer useful for employees. Instead, why not consider electricity allowance or to give each employee a budget to improve their WFH environment. That Google Nest Wifi suddenly looks really desirable!
Work-from-home is not fair: You may hate your office. But here’s the thing, the office gave everyone in the company a standardised place to work from, regardless of their family background. With work-from-home, not everyone has the same environment. Due to the size of our flats, many people don’t have a study room. Some people work in their bedroom, which they may also share with their siblings. Some have to take meetings in the kitchen or the yard. This isn’t fair. Companies and their employees need to recognise that.
Changes are easy to embrace when they are in your favor: It’s easy to advocate for changes when they are in your favor. For example, if you enjoy working-from-home because it gives you the freedom to do things anytime you want, and you can still get your work in a shorter time, that’s great. But not everyone has the same experience. Many people feel like they are getting less work done from home even though they are working harder. For these people, going back to the office is something they look forward to.
Hiring For The Future
Back in March, we froze new headcounts for a while. We did so because we weren’t sure what the future would look like for us, and we wanted to be back in the office before we resume hiring.
Over the past weeks, I realized that while most of us won’t be back in the office anytime soon, our plans still need to continue. So, this means that moving forward, we will need to add people to our team who are able to embrace the challenges of working-from-home full-time.
To my DollarsAndSense co-workers, I hope that working-from-home has been tolerable for you guys. Please let me know if there is anything that we can do to make it better.
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