The coronavirus pandemic looks set to change the way people work, with an increasing number of roles able to be performed remotely going forward.
Will Tan, managing director of specialist recruitment firm Principle Partners, was already seeing a trend for employees to work from home before the virus struck.
He expects the pandemic to accelerate this shift, as growing numbers of companies see the benefits of remote working.
At the same time, he is also expecting to see a rise in businesses hiring highly skilled professionals on a contract basis to carry out specific projects.
Tan says: “Companies should be planning for how the future of work will change with more people operating outside the primary workplace, hybrid workers who split their time between the office and their home, and contract workers making up a growing part of the workforce.”
He points out that during the pandemic many companies in Singapore and Hong Kong have had almost all of their staff, including management, working from home.
This period has demonstrated that, with internet conferencing tools, such as Zoom, Webex and Bluescape collaborative work can still be done remotely.
“A lot of collaboration does not have to be done in person, and often work can be progressed without having meetings at all. People have come to realise that working outside the office can be more efficient.” Tan says.
“As a result, coming out of the pandemic, I think the workplace will be one in which you have a mix of some staff who work in the office full-time, some who always work remotely and a third hybrid group who split their time between home and the office.”
Giving staff the flexibility to work from home, rather than come into the office, has significant benefits for both companies and individuals.
One of the biggest advantages for companies of having more of their staff working remotely is the costs they can save through having smaller, less generic office premises.
It also enables them to be more nimble and better able to cope with unforeseen situations which lead to workplace closures, such as a resurgence of the coronavirus, civil unrest, or even severe weather events such as typhoons.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that employees tend to be happier and more efficient when they are working from home.
For individual staff, benefits include not having to spend time and money commuting, lower stress levels, a better work-life balance and increased focus.
Another employment trend Tan is seeing is a rise in companies using contract workers, and the coronavirus is also having an impact in this area.
“A lot of companies are looking at a bad 2020 in terms of sales and earnings. Each time they hire a permanent employee, on-costs for induction, mobilisation and engagement are high. When you hire a contract worker, the ability to right-size the workforce is increased.” he explains.
At the same time, he points out that many technology projects need people with a highly specialised skillset.
“If companies hire a permanent employee for these roles, once the project is complete, they need to find them another role for which they may not be as well-qualified. If they hire a contract worker, they can build a specialist project team led by a senior company staffer for a particular task, and then disband it when the project is complete.”
Tan adds that the money companies save by hiring a contract worker can then be spent on training and development for core staff, or upgrading infrastructure to give all workers best-in-class tools to enhance productivity.
Tan thinks there are also advantages for contractors themselves. “In the tech space, there is a constant need for skills upgrading. Contractors have the opportunity to work at different firms and get exposure to different software and tools, often those that have only just become available. This experience adds to their own market value.”
“By contrast, if they stay at the same company, they may be pigeon-holed in a technology or project-type. Over time they will become less relevant.”
Contract workers with specialist skills in areas such as cloud security, data science and operational risk are particularly in demand.
But Tan thinks there are also opportunities for contractors in the financial services sector.
“While there are some functions that cannot be outsourced, there are opportunities at mid-level doing analytical work and research.” he says.
Principle Partners helps advise companies that want to explore taking on contract workers.
“It is an area we are very interested in, as we can see the potential and the way in which the world is moving. We focus on highly-skilled contract workers who are specialists in their field, from the mid-level upwards. As a specialist recruiter, we have extensive knowledge of the talent pool in the financial services and technology sectors.”
The firm can also help individuals who want to become contractors. “It is an area that continues to grow,” Tan says.