Workplace flexibility a top priority for candidates

Due to the global pandemic, workplaces around the Asia-Pacific region have had to rethink their future work strategies. One major issue for business leaders moving forward will be providing true flexibility arrangements and best practices for employees, as one size does not fit all.

Failing to get this right could result in adverse consequences, as many employees adjusted to the massive shift to remote work and flexibility is now mostly considered the norm.

Michael Page’s Talent Trends 2022 The Great X report, which compiled the responses of over 5,500 businesses and 15,000 employees across 12 markets in APAC, revealed that 66% of surveyed employees in Malaysia preferred a combination of working remotely and in a workplace – that is, in favour of blended flexibility and having a choice.

Most candidates also said that they would be seeking a hybrid work arrangement when they are on the search for a new job.

Related: The future of work in Asia

There is no one clear solution for everyone when it comes to workplace flexibility

“There was already a lot of discussion about the future of work before COVID-19,” says Anthony Thompson, Regional Managing Director, Asia Pacific at PageGroup.

“With lockdowns and restrictions, we were forced to learn to really understand our business and how people might operate effectively when they were not in offices all the time, and that has been really beneficial. We’ve seen that some people have operated very effectively and productively working from home most of the time, and others have struggled.”

It is a complex problem with no easy solutions, as the feasibility of remote work is dependent not only on an individual’s personality and personal circumstances but also on the sector and role.

For instance, it might not be practical for someone responsible for running a factory to expect to work from home. In contrast, software engineers might find it more productive working in a quiet environment at home.

“Companies that are still operating in traditional, pre-COVID ways are probably the ones finding it challenging to compete for talent,” says Nic Chambers, Managing Director, Michael Page Malaysia. “We were thrown into the COVID-19 world where entire companies went into remote work overnight, and guess what? Business continued. Therefore, it is essential that companies learn to trust their employees as hybrid work models are here to stay.”

Related: Top 10 highest paying jobs in Malaysia for 2022


One company that has fully embraced a flexible way of working is Heineken Vietnam. “Working from home or anywhere outside the office allows our employees to spend more time with their families and take care of their well-being,” shares Le Qui Don, Human Resources Director, Heineken Vietnam.

“At the same time, some of our employees still want to come into the office some of the time as nothing can replace the joy of true togetherness. This can be attributed to the social nature of human beings, and it also happens to be a part of our purpose and DNA at Heineken Vietnam.”

The hybrid working model was trialled at its head office in Ho Chi Minh City at the start of 2022, and the company is now making preparations for the same model to be rolled out nationwide. 

Heineken Vietnam has also made improvements to the interiors of its head office to create a more conducive working environment. It now offers flexi-desks, and chairs with good lumbar support and configured its spaces for better collaboration.

Related: How to attract talent in 2022

Now is the time for bold, people-first moves

While other companies lament offering flexibility for their employees, others are getting ahead of the curve.

Indonesian peer-to-peer lending platform Alami has chosen to go against the grain, having put in place a four-day workweek since October 2021.

Alami’s CEO, Dima Djani, said that the company wanted to give employees more time to spend with family, pursue hobbies, or participate in faith-based activities.

The impact of this was immediate. After starting the four-day workweek at the beginning of October 2021, the company closed the month with a 40% increase in monthly disbursements, from US$ 7 million to US$10 million, proving that a shorter workweek can do wonders for productivity.

Djani says that putting in place a four-day workweek has led to teams coming up with more creative ways to work, such as collaborating asynchronously to accommodate teammates working in different time zones.

Since news of Alami’s four-day workweek went viral, the company has seen unexpected payoffs in other ways: It received over 4,000 job applications in less than two months. If anything, this is evidence that companies willing to take bold steps to change the way they work will also be more effective at attracting talent.

Employees don't just want flexibility, they want autonomy

For companies and their leaders to succeed with workplace flexibility, Thompson says it is about empowering employees to decide how and when they want to work. “One of the misconceptions about hybrid work is that everyone wants to work from home. More than ever, what employees want now is to have a choice.

“Leaders and managers will need to communicate regularly to find out what works best for individuals and teams,” he emphasises.

He said he expects to see most APAC markets adopt a blended approach to work. “I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the office. We’re seeing many people who really want to be back in the office and having that interaction again,” he noted.

Discover the latest in our 2022 Talent Trends report, The Great X: This survey report covers what hiring professionals need to know to address talent attraction and employee retention for the year ahead. It also highlights a change of times in the hiring outlook as job candidates and employees now prioritise their well-being more than ever. Download our report to find out more.

Read more:
How HR needs to evolve to support the future of work
The importance of good communication in the workplace

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