From left: Liza Allen, Kimberly Arth, Lynne Barry, Sylvain Trocmee and Helen Colquhoun
By Wilson Lau
Many companies in Asia remain behind their counterparts in other developed economies when it comes to flexible arrangement of working hours. A flexible work schedule is becoming increasingly popular among a growing number of millennials and university graduates and is considered helpful towards optimizing employees’ work-life balance, particularly for women who are in transition.
A supportive corporate mindset, advanced telecommunication technologies effectively connecting people in different geographical locations, and office configurations such as well-equipped meeting rooms are essential for flexible working arrangements to take off. “IT equipment and devices are vital for our employees,” says Sylvain Trocmee, Head of Human Resources Asia Pacific, Robeco.
To support work on laptops, smart phones and other mobile devices, Robeco, an asset management company headquartered in Rotterdam of the Netherlands with its six branches in Asia, has integrated the latest security technologies that enable users to access the main drives in its global systems. Technology is what gets people connected anywhere, notes Trocmee.
“Communication is important. People need to have a strong sharing mindset,” he says, adding the mentality that physical presence at the office equals productivity is not always true. But companies in some Asian countries, particularly Japan and South Korea, typically do not think flexible arrangements will work.
The implementation of flexible working arrangements requires a high level of trust on all levels of a company, says Lynne Barry, Global Head of Learning and Development at Telstra. “Given this trust, employees are expected to deliver results. We do not find people taking advantage of the flexibility.”
“We have a score card system. All business unit leaders describe their goals for the next three to five years, she explains. “In the quarterly breakdown, they state exactly what needs to be done to achieve the goals. This supports flexibility,” she continues. “When team members know what they have to deliver towards achieving the goals each quarter, they can work flexi-hours.”
“In the case of our company, people working flexible time are more productive and loyal,” she adds. “It’s about cultural change. It requires the leaders to take the lead and introduce the circuit breakers.”
Flexibility is particularly applicable to professional women at a transitional point of their lives. The idea, however, appears to be less developed in Hong Kong, notes Kimberly Arth, Co-founder and Co-CEO of PIVOT, a company which finds project-based and flexible work opportunities for professional women.
“Our talent base consists of women with over 10 years of experience, and 45 percent of them speak multiple languages. Some have master’s degrees,” Arth notes. “They want options, but options in Hong Kong are limited. It is about educating the companies that the best talent is available and they want flexible working arrangements.”
Professional services specialist Accenture operates in over 20 countries and has implemented flexibility initiatives, says Liza Allen, Managing Director for Communications, Media and Technology. “We try to ensure that flexibility is built into the projects, taking into account the objectives and timeframe. Millennials like the idea of flexible working. It’s about collaboration and connections.”
In fact, flexible working arrangement bodes well in talent recruitment and retention. When you can provide your clients with the best talent for their projects, they will not say no to such talent, says Telstra’s Barry, highlighting the company’s social media platform where employees could share their experience of flexible work arrangement.
Given that many companies in Hong Kong face the challenge of high turnover, flexible work hours can be a solution to the shortage of talent by retaining staff. It is not beneficial employee retention but can also attract more highly experienced women professionals to return to the workforce, Arth of PIVOT believes.
Staff retention is a challenge particularly in the middle layer of companies, Allen points out. “Many employees simply choose to leave. People need to get the points across to senior management and convince them to introduce changes.”