07 December 2017

Why the Asia-Pacific region is known for its flexibility in both working time and environment

In a previous blog series, we used international research to highlight how one’s geographic environment and culture affects his or her expectations in the workplace. We reported that Europeans are quite reserved when it comes to work-related changes, whereas employees in the Asia-Pacific region are the most optimistic.

Now it is time to consider those findings in the context of Planon employees throughout the world. Alex Lim, General Manager at Planon Asia shares his views on this topic in the blog below, which is the second in our series: ‘The changing work environment’.

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Flexibility in where and when to work

I’m responsible for Planon operations in Singapore and Hong Kong, which means I have to travel quite often between these two places. This intensive traveling is not uncommon in our region. Up to 80 percent of the week we work remotely and away from home. Friends of mine, for example, are only at home during the weekends. We are highly flexible in our working times and our working locations.

One of the main reasons for this flexibility is our small economy in a bigger region, the same goes for Hong Kong. Singapore and Hong Kong are very similar, both have a Chinese majority population and we have been colonised by the British for a long time. Ethnically, we are Asian, yet how we think is influenced by the British. Hence, this characterises the way we work too. When Singapore became independent, which was around the same time Hong Kong was industrialized, both economies focused on manufacturing. This attracted Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), mainly due to low wages and the English-speaking population. The years went by and wages have increased significantly. This means it is no longer viable for manufacturing companies to stay in this region.

A thin line between our working and private life

Those manufacturing companies have been replaced by high-tech and financial services companies in a knowledge-based economy. Singapore now serves as an ASEAN hub for multinational organisations from Europe and the United States. The same goes for Hong Kong, which serves as a hub for greater China. This means that employees in Singapore and Hong Kong have to adjust their working hours to the time zones multinationals work in. Whereas in Europe or the United States it is more common to work from 9 to 5, we therefore have very long working days. That is not my choice, but it is the norm here in this Asian region. The line between work time and personal time is thin, but since the financial compensation is very reasonable, this also means we have a good standard of living.

As our work is flexible and we travel quite often, we are not tied to a physical desk. We appreciate flexible working environments that we can use whenever we need to. It also means that the traditional office is losing popularity. Office rentals are amongst the highest in the world and therefore, there is a trend towards smaller offices. I believe this trend will progress. The office environment will be seen as a place for gatherings and not as a fixed working environment. Offices are turning more into cafe settings, where you can sit down and have conversations. One bank in Singapore, for instance, renovate their branches into a cafe style. Visitors don't have to queue up, but can get a number, be served a coffee or some pastries while they wait for their banking services, whereas the bank’s employees can meet and collaborate in an open, informal and inspiring environment, without having the need for a fixed workspace.

Living in a ‘smart nation’ 

There is also a close relationship between this need for flexible environments and the usage of technology in the working environment. We are a highly connected society, with a high penetration rate of connected devices (149.8% on last known data), which comes down to a total of 1.5 mobile device per citizen. We are generally open for new technologies to make our lives better and to be more productive at work. Singapore is investing a lot of effort and resources in the smart nation initiative, to gather data and improve our lives based on the data. The government tends to sponsor productivity improvements in the working place. If companies improve their working environment, they can get up to 70 per cent reimbursement for new technologies. This push from the government allows companies in Singapore to move forward easier than other countries in the region.

Singapore can be seen as a forerunner for these trends in the Asia-Pacific region. With the highly flexible workforce, the changing role of the office and the government investments, a lot has changed in the last few years. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change,” Charles Darwin once said. I'm excited about the next changes in our lives when we truly can reap the benefits of the smart nation initiative when everything and everyone is linked up.


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