The post-COVID workplace will look somewhat different than it did in January, as companies work within the guidelines issued by health and government bodies to ensure their employees' health and safety. One company, the Singapore operations of trading and investment provider Saxo Markets, has been putting extra thought into this—because their lease has expired, and as they move their office, they need to factor in the needs of the new environment.
People Matters asked Adam Reynolds, the APAC CEO of Saxo Markets, about what worked for the firm in the last few months and what his plans are as the office slowly reopens. Here are the highlights of the conversation.
How are you planning for the reopening of the workplace and the changes to the working environment?
We're actually in the process of moving our office—we have been in the same office for 15 years, and our current lease is up. And in doing that, we have to start thinking about what the post-COVID working environment will be like. With more people working from home, we need to be more flexible about space. But we also have a very strongly growing business at the moment, so we might also have to increase our space. I think we might end up keeping the space constant, but being more efficient about how we use it.
How has WFH worked for your people so far? Are you planning any new initiatives to help improve the WFH situation for them?
We are a fintech and digital business, so the technology around working from home is no problem. We actually managed to function over the last few months with just two people in the office: those were the IT people responsible for making sure the systems worked properly. For a digital business, there is really no reason why you shouldn't be able to work from home.
When we first rolled out our business continuity plan, we were able to quickly ensure everyone had access to all the IT equipment they needed to take home to ensure their home office setup was optimal. It was good timing for us, because we were about to replace all the screens in our office and had brought in all the new screens, ready for installation, just as COVID-19 broke. So most of those screens ended up going home with people and becoming part of their home office setup. Most of our staff now have a good setup, where a typical set of equipment would include a headset, mouse, domain laptop or remote login token, and a big screen at home. Some brought their office chairs home as well, so that they could have a more ergonomic seat.
Personally, I've always been a great believer in flexibility. Even before COVID, I was doing WFH one day a week myself, because when you work from home, you get a chance to think without interruption and work on tasks that need concentration. Whereas in the office, you are more likely to be disrupted, but you also have ad hoc meetings where you can informally talk to people and find out what's going on throughout the business. That is a very efficient method of communication, much more efficient than emails, because it takes very little time and provides you with the information immediately. You lose that when more people are working from home.
You'd mentioned the business is growing strongly. Have you seen any changes in productivity during this period?
Overall, there has been a very high level of efficiency and productivity during this period. For some functions such as service and digital sales, productivity has increased by a lot. Part of this is the extremely large number of new clients that we have. The markets have bounced back very aggressively despite predictions, with retail investors driving it, and we've needed people to work over the weekends to process the documents and attend to the queries that come with that many new clients.
It might also be because people aren't travelling as much. That time which would otherwise be spent on their commute is being put back into their work. People are working longer hours and even working over the weekends because of the lockdown; they can't go anywhere. This has been quite helpful for the moment because it matches the demands on their time, but it also brings its own challenges.
In one discussion I recently had, the point came up that people need to have a weekend where they're not actually working, because they have been doing this too often. But the trouble is that there's not going to be much benefit from giving people more free time because they're not supposed to go out of the house anyway. And some of them don't even want it—they'd much rather work over the weekend and earn some extra money. And there is definitely going to be some stress when people work continuously for such a long time.
Do you think burnout will become a risk in this work situation?
I think it will be a risk, and we have been trying ways of dealing with it. We've rolled out several initiatives to provide more social interactions such as daily huddles and check-ins with teams, fun games and challenges to engage staff and virtual Friday bars and quizzes. And we've provided certain allowances, staff motivational expenses to cover their entertainment needs while they are working from home—Netflix, books, fitness equipment, things that will give them some outlet for the stress of being confined to their homes.
We're all highly aware that this has been a stressful time for everybody. But at the same time, people have not seemed to want to take holidays, possibly because they can't travel, and you can't force people to take holidays either, especially if that holiday is going to be spent in the same small room where you have been doing your work for the last few months.
But we will encourage them to do so once the economy opens up somewhat, and we will need to be flexible about accrued leave when the time comes.
This has been a very productive time for us, but we need people to take a break and mentally recharge.