Flexing your flexible work muscle: What’s the CIO play in Singapore?

With the shift to hybrid work here to stay, CIOs are building out new strategies designed to convert employee flexibility into organisational efficiency in Singapore.

Such strategies remain anchored around overcoming key business challenges linked to modernised technology infrastructure and data security, viewed as mission-critical in creating enhanced hybrid work frameworks.

In response, CIOs are blending boardroom and employee demands to maximise the potential of hybrid work through a commitment to evolving business and technology requirements.

“We believe that hybrid work arrangements are not the future, it is now,” observed Lindsay Brown, Vice President and General Manager of Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) at GoTo.

While such an approach may have been created out of necessity during the height of the pandemic, Brown said new research suggests hybrid is now the default form of work in Singapore.

“The pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote and hybrid working practices, as well as changed how IT enables and supports the workforce,” he recalled.

“Many enterprises found themselves unprepared without a solid work-from-home plan, forcing them to scramble to ‘just get it done’ and even to neglect security protocols to maintain some semblance of business continuity.”

Despite this transition triggering the use of “stop gap measures”, opportunities are now emerging for CIOs to assume a leadership role in rebuilding operations and rethinking organisational structure – one that is built on trust and flexibility.

“This will ultimately lead to more success for organisations and career fulfilment for employees,” Brown advised.

Assessing new hybrid work priorities

When the pandemic hit, businesses had to adapt to remote work seemingly overnight as a matter of survival. With no company immune to the impact of COVID-19, GoTo transitioned to a remote-centric organisation, which differs from being remote-friendly.

“We define remote-centric as remote work being part of the core ‘design’ of the company where the workforce is empowered to work remotely,” Brown said. “As a remote-centric company we were able to test and learn what works for us and listen to employee feedback.”

As part of this transition, Brown and his team cultivated a culture that “nurtured and prioritised” working outside of the traditional office environment and work hours, aligned to the priorities of teams distributed throughout different time zones and geographies.

According to Frost & Sullivan findings – research commissioned and produced in partnership with GoTo – nearly half (44%) of respondents operating on a work-from-office model reported significantly higher turnover in 2021 than in 2020, compared to 22% of hybrid work organisations who reported a higher turnover.

“Businesses that listen to and accommodate the variety of different demands from candidates, contributing to a personalised experience will have the winning element in attracting staff,” Brown added. “This becomes significantly more important when aiming to fill the role of a scarce candidate pool, such as the technology sector.”

By embracing a remote-centric approach, Brown said GoTo was able to lead from the front and take into consideration employee feedback, empowering individuals and providing a workplace that suited all different work personas in the process.

“We’ve learned a lot about the employee experience during this time, and how we can continue to engage individuals and teams, regardless of their work personas and preferences when it comes to flexible working,” he said.

“We communicated with our employees, to reaffirm their purpose and value on the team, and built trust amongst each other to establish the confidence in understanding everyone else’s roles too.”

Despite the benefits, Brown acknowledged that one of the biggest concerns for many remote workers is missing out on the social benefits of the office – hence the need to promote a strong sense of community irrespective of employee location or arrangement.

“We do this through a program called ‘The Community’,” he explained. “Each community has a leader and team to sponsor local events, testing new ways of meeting in person as well as creating ‘virtual water cooler’ moments.

“Events range from online cooking courses and book clubs to happy hours, movie nights and comedy shows, as well as more purposeful get-togethers such as town halls, offsite meetings, and team-building occasions.”

For Brown, strong communication is key – regardless of whether an organisation is working remotely or adopting a hybrid model.

“As long as communication is present and facilitated by versatile, user-friendly technology then companies can benefit from remote or hybrid work,” he added.

Overcoming post-pandemic challenges

When executed effectively, hybrid work can provide businesses with an array of advantages, opening the door to “boundary-less collaboration” in Singapore.

With offices no longer viewed as a mission-critical necessity, employees can still be productive and connected while working remotely, in addition to boosting wellbeing and helping individuals achieve a healthier work life balance.

But such success comes with a caveat for CIOs.

“If not utilised well by businesses, hybrid working can have an adverse effect on employee wellbeing,” cautioned Yvette McEnearney, Director of Channel across APJ at GoTo. “Without the right collaboration solutions and business initiatives, employees can feel disconnected, and always being close to workstations can see a slanted work life balance as workloads increase.

“If a business’ technology stack is sub-par, then they will be under-prepared against cyber attacks, which increased exponentially with the growth of hybrid work.”

In assessing the roadblocks preventing CIOs and businesses from implementing effective hybrid work strategies in Singapore, McEnearney acknowledged the importance of prioritising company culture and employee wellbeing.

“A potential decline in company culture is possible,” she outlined. “A remote-centric organisation creates more equality in a workforce.”

“However remote workers could face several disadvantages including missing critical information after a virtual meeting has ended or being left out of the company culture by missing those ‘water cooler’ moments where employees have the chance to bond with one another.”

Furthermore, potential burnout is also a key challenge facing organisations post-pandemic, McEnearney added.

“Remote workers may work longer hours and take shorter breaks than their in-office counterparts,” she said.

“They worry that because they are out of sight, their in-office colleagues may perceive them to be slacking off, so they have a tendency to overcompensate by staying late or making themselves available outside traditional work hours.”

Specific to implementing digital transformation agendas to supercharge hybrid work strategies, CIOs are struggling to manage the “overwhelming options” available in relation to productivity tools and IT management, hampered further by escalating costs and expenses.

According to research findings, 76% of IT professionals are experiencing a “large increase” in workload because of hybrid work set-ups, with 43% accepting that IT has now become “more difficult” as a result.

Delving deeper, 31% of challenges were attributed to ineffective software, spanning frequent user errors when navigating complicated interfaces to a lack of access for off-network devices.

“Customers continue to see the value in having a strong IT team and infrastructure as they manage hybrid working challenges, so it becomes only natural that budgets and workloads have increased,” McEnearney said.

“IT teams need to ensure they have invested into solutions that are tailored to securing remote working, whilst also not capsizing their already increased workload. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to move towards consolidating their IT stack.”

As outlined by Frost & Sullivan research, organisations are beginning to understand the value of IT tools that help to simplify the challenges that IT management teams face, with 33% of businesses planning to increase investment in IT help desk and management solutions.

“Consolidated IT solutions allow employees to collaborate effectively, and IT teams to better manage challenges efficiently, whilst also being cost-effective for organisations,” McEnearney explained.

“Having the right tools for the right use case allows employees to collaborate efficiently and businesses to scale accordingly.”

Citing research findings, McEnearney said that a third of businesses (34%) believe that outsourcing help desk or other IT support functions to a managed service provider (MSP) can help in an economic downturn, a number expected to rise as CIOs increase reliance on external partners and ecosystem specialisation.

“Reducing costs is no longer the key driver for using managed services,” she explained. “The priority for organisations has shifted towards improving human connectivity and experiences.”

“Depending on which MSP a company selects, they can benefit from unique expertise and dedicated support which avoids the need to address technical problems – instead they can channel efforts into more business needs. Our go-to-market strategy is partner-first in Southeast Asia and aligns with the key outsourcing priorities of CIOs in the region.”

Building best practice with technology

As innovative CIOs deploy new technologies to maximise the benefits of hybrid work, Brown advocated the benefits of embracing “communication, collaboration and integration” as foundational pillars across an organisation. The aim? To ensure employees remain productive and connected.

“As restrictions ease, employers must take into consideration the modern employee experiences to enable and empower flexible working seamlessly and securely,” he advised.

“While these tools have served as a stop-gap measure for organisations transitioning to remote work, IT consolidation in the form of tools that handle related functions in one secure application offers much-needed relief for IT teams.”

For example, Brown said employees want flexible work arrangements to become the new normal for workplaces in Singapore, cited as a “deal breaker” for talent considering whether to join or stay with an organisation.

“However, this shift towards greater flexible work arrangements will take time to fully come into play,” he added. “For this to fully be implemented in the future, there needs to be collaboration between employers, employees and the government.”

“We’re in the age of employee empowerment. We want to do our work on our own time, on our terms, and from where we work best, whether it’s on the couch, at a cafe, or even, yes, occasionally at the office. The hybrid work model is here to stay.”

In looking ahead, Brown advised CIOs to stay connected through technology, while fostering social interactions and advocating for balance – supported by regular updates and an enhanced technology portfolio.

“Organisations should aim to leverage video technology and cloud sharing to increase seamless work efforts between team members,” he documented. “Keep remote employees engaged by fostering team connections through social hours, video chats, and virtual team-building activities.”

“Also, encourage employees to set healthy boundaries around schedules, assignments, and performance expectations.”

Furthermore, Brown stressed the importance of keeping remote workers updated on projects, goals, team progress, and company news.

“Check in regularly with remote employees for both one-on-ones and team meetings so everyone has a chance to touch base and keep their finger on the pulse of the company,” he said.

“Ensure employees feel confident and empowered to do their best work no matter where they are is key to improving engagement and performance. Whether a new hire or a veteran employee, make sure remote teams have the tools and training to get the job done.”

CIO, Remote Work