WFH: The 'new normal' that works

WFH: The 'new normal' that works

Employers can do a lot more to bring out the best in their people, no matter where they are.

The "Great Resignation" is far from over. According to one of the largest global employee surveys, one in five workers plan to quit their jobs this year. When asked about what motivates them to change jobs, being able to choose when and where to work were ranked very important by 50% and 47% of those surveyed respectively.

Yet, we're seeing major companies pushing for compulsory office return policies, despite 56% of employees in Asia Pacific making it clear that flexible work options are still in demand for sustained productivity.

So why are so many companies still adamant on employees returning to the office, even when talent is at stake?

Admittedly, I was worried when the pandemic first hit. How were we going to brainstorm and collaborate on projects if we aren't in the same room? Was the quality of our work going to suffer?

Instead, our teams came together like never before. Deadlines were met, work goals were achieved, and we remained as collaborative as ever.

In fact, studies have shown that businesses that embraced virtual work were even more productive.

Approximately 6 in 8 Thai professionals reported a similar or increased level of productivity while working at home. Consequently, 6 in 8 wish to have more work-from-home arrangements in the future. This may be an increasingly significant consideration in determining employee job satisfaction or their decision to change roles.


The pandemic has demonstrated that employees could be just as productive and successful, independent of the office. It has also taught us to focus on quality of output, instead of hours spent in the office, a rather archaic method of measuring performance.

Most importantly, it has taught us the need to trust our employees to deliver their best work regardless of their way of working. This trust will pay off.

After spending months in remote work and subsequently rolling out a flexible, trust-based work model across the 3M global organisation called "Work Your Way", here's how we were able to not only offer flexible, hybrid or remote work, but take these models to new heights:

Create "moments that matter": Leadership calls for flexibility and adaptability. As such, we should find ways to create "moments that matter" regardless of whether our teams are working on-site or remotely.

This means strategically planning valuable personal and professional interactions, be it virtually or in-person, and this will look different depending on each team's size, work arrangements, preferences and personalities. It may include performance reviews, celebrating milestones, team building activities and many more.

I thus take the time to meet and collaborate in-person with my team in Korea, where I'm based. To continue building rapport with the wider Asia-Pacific region, which is also within my area of responsibility, I hold regular regional town halls and dialogue sessions.

Some of us leaders also started regular virtual meetings with different teams. As a result, we have had much more face time with team members we previously would have not met, and hearing different perspectives has in turn helped us lead better.

Make virtual onboarding a success: Many naysayers of flexible and remote work often bring up the difficulty of virtual onboarding for new talent. Helping them adapt to your organisation's work software, procedures and team culture can be challenging. But doing it entirely online adds another layer of complexity.

This is an understandable concern. However, I argue that companies are still scratching the surface when it comes to making virtual onboarding a success.

Organisations must figure out effective onboarding procedures to help new employees adapt quickly even if they choose to work remotely. This can be in the form of comprehensive employee guides, videos, and scheduling both formal and informal meetings.

Additionally, dedicated networking programmes for new joiners can help them make connections and learn more about the company culture much faster. Our New Employee Opportunity Network (Neon) provides tailored networking, development and leadership opportunities to empower new joiners to actively influence our strategy, culture and results.

Let employees work their way: When managed well, allowing employees to choose how they want to work should not affect business continuity. Employees should also have the freedom to decide when to come in.

Juggling work and parenting is notoriously challenging. With 3M's new working model, parents can better plan their work around childcare.

Flexible work programmes need not stop at the corporate office. Flexible work arrangements for plant employees is more challenging, but an important mission for us. While they will have to continue working on-site due to the nature of the work, production plant workers at 3M are offered other forms of flexibility such as flexible start and stop times or shift swapping.

We've seen great results from the launch of our new work model. As many as 90% of our employees across our global organisation reported feeling supported in a survey conducted recently.

These findings say it all -- instead of focusing on getting our employees back in the office, let's find more ways to empower them to work in ways that boost their productivity.

Jim Falteisek is senior vice-president for corporate affairs with 3M Asia and managing director of 3M Korea.

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