Press release

7 Jul 2021 Singapore, SG

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

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.

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Media Relations (Consulting, Digital, Talent) and Social Media Lead, Ernst & Young Solutions LLP

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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%).

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 increased technology investments

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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About the survey

The 2021 EY Work Reimagined Employee Survey was conducted in March 2021 and received 16,264 responses from 16 countries across 23 industries. Millennials represented more than half of all respondents.

The survey was conducted using a third-party panel and targeted employees who work for organizations with at least 500 employees.

Survey data is segmented by 24 different personal and work-related demographics and preferences. Participant responses ranged from 21 years to 65 years plus, with responses from senior leaders and individuals at all different functions.

It provides an update to the 2020 EY Work Reimagined Employee Survey, which included responses from more than 3,600 employees and 700 plus employers.