EY Survey: Majority of Southeast Asia (SEA) employees prefer not to return to pre-COVID-19 ways of working

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  • Only 15% of SEA respondents would prefer to work from office full time
  • Six in ten of SEA respondents would quit their jobs if not provided post-pandemic flexibility
  • Seven in ten of SEA respondents say hybrid work arrangements will increase productivity and creativity
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When pandemic restrictions ease locally, only 15% of employees surveyed from SEA would prefer to work from office full time, according to the EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey. The majority would prefer to work anywhere (32%), work remotely full time (29%), or in a hybrid work arrangement i.e., mix of in-office and remote working (23%).

The global survey canvassed the views of more than 16,000 employees across 16 countries, including 1,037 respondents across SEA (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines). It explores employee attitudes and experiences to work throughout the pandemic and into the “next normal”.

Flexibility wanted

The survey finds that among SEA respondents, nine in ten employees want flexibility in where and when they work, in the absence of which more than half (60%) would consider leaving their job post-COVID-19 pandemic. Given the choice between two jobs, their preferences were evenly split: 49% would choose flexibility in when they work and 48% would choose flexibility in where they work. On average, employees would want to work between two and three days remotely after the pandemic, with 35% of employees saying they want a shorter working week altogether. The majority (69%) believe their productivity can be accurately measured irrespective of location. Yet, there is a strong perception (86%) that this arrangement would impact their access to career opportunities.

Despite the apparent willingness to move jobs for more flexible working arrangements, most employee respondents (78%) say they are satisfied with their jobs, and almost all (91%) say they plan to stay in their current roles for the following 12 months.

Tan Lay Keng, EY Asean People Advisory Services Leader comments:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major shift in where we work, when we work and how we work. Employers that promote hybrid work arrangements and provide the flexibility for employees to work anywhere and anytime, are ahead of the curve. These employers are likely to have better employee attraction, retention and satisfaction in the long run, which could positively impact the business.

“Employees surveyed saw employers taking steps to enable them to work productively and to better manage their workload in this new hybrid environment. By investing in collaboration technology, providing employee benefits that supports home office set up, and building a strong teaming culture, these employers are likely to be more successful in this new normal.”

Hybrid work arrangements help improve productivity and creativity

The survey also canvassed attitudes to existing work practices, with employee respondents broadly positive about the impact of remote working. Almost half (53%) say their organizational culture has changed and improved during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, while only 31% believe it has worsened. Beyond its impact on culture, the majority of respondents agreed that a new mix of onsite and remote work would increase the company’s productivity (73%) and creativity (75%).

Lisa Escaler, People Advisory Services – Workforce Advisory Leader for SGV, a Philippine member firm of EY, says:

“Organizations need to understand the ‘new normal’ has not only impacted the way people work, but in fact the very concept of how they can work. Prior to the pandemic, the idea of work-life balance had become a key workforce consideration for companies. But now, especially in the Philippines where employees have been forced to work from home for one of the longest periods of quarantine in the world, people’s perception of traditional workforce models and behaviors have changed drastically. Organizations will now need to include workforce transformation strategies in their post-pandemic planning.”

As employers adapted to offer hybrid work arrangements, they have had to change their work practices to better manage productivity during the pandemic. Respondents observed changes ranging from establishing “meeting/email-free” times for the team/company (49%), setting aside time on calendar for individual/focused work (45%), establishing clear working hours for work-life balance (44%), using productivity tools (42%), and reducing meeting times to 25 to 45 minutes to allow for breaks in between meetings  (31%).

Work from anywhere requires increasedtechnology investments

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

The prospect of increasingly widespread flexible working is leading to more demands for technology, both on-site and in the home office. Seventy-three percent of respondents say they want better technology in the office (e.g., faster internet and videoconferencing), 52% say they want companies to upgrade at-home hardware (e.g., extra monitors and headsets), 51% would like reimbursement for high-speed internet/phone expenses.

However, despite the shift toward new ways of working and the rapid adoption of virtual meeting technology, 67% would like to travel for business moderately to extensively after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tan concludes:

“As companies seek to reposition for growth in the recovery from the pandemic, their talent is likely to be their most important asset. Employers will need to constantly review their employee engagement strategies, the impact of employee sentiments on culture and productivity, and the technological investments that are needed to sustain an optimized in-person, hybrid and digital work experience.”


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