By Christina Ching


Fancy working flexibly and remotely instead of staying cooped up in your cubicle all day? Imagine an office with bright, open spaces where you are free to pick an environment suited to the kind of work you want to do at any particular moment — and this can change throughout the day.

“At Microsoft, work is regarded as a thing you do, not a place you go to,” says Ms Helene Auriol, managing director of Microsoft Singapore.

“Our mission and values are to help people and businesses throughout the world realise their full potential. In order to achieve this, we promise employees they can come as they are and do what they love. We provide a rewarding career, lifestyle and flexibility that allows employees to choose when and where to work, enabling them to do their best, all the time.”

Its efforts to be a employer of choice have not gone unnoticed.

The multinational was among nine companies that were recently bestowed the Best Employers in Singapore 2013 award by Aon Hewitt.

“This is testament to the high quality of talent management initiatives and empowerment of employees in enabling them to realise their full potential,” says Ms Auriol.

Microsoft also received the Ministry of Manpower’s Work-Life Achiever Award last year that recognised the company’s work-life strategies and practices to support the flexibility of its workforce.

In April 2011, the firm made a bold decision to revamp its One Marina Boulevard office.

“We wanted to create an energised work environment which embodies our flexible culture. The decision allowed us to accelerate our journey towards our aspired culture, which is to remove hierarchy, increase collaboration between teams, continue to increase flexibility and work-life balance, and provide an office space in which employees can do their best work every day,” says Ms Auriol.

From a space in which everyone had an office or a cubicle, the office environment was transformed into one where no one had a fixed desk. Bright, open spaces and areas for collaboration are interspersed among more formal workstations.

“This has resulted in changes in behaviour, such as how teams stay connected, an increased focus on accountability and setting clear expectations, and a change in the way we actually do our work,” Ms Auriol continues.

“We trained leaders and managers on remote management and other areas, as well as employees on how to work remotely, how to best leverage our technology, and how to use the new space.”

The revamp has been well received. Initial survey results three and six months after moving into the new space indicated that 54 per cent of employees see an increase in productivity in the new environment; 44 per cent collaborate with colleagues more now than before, 82 per cent agree that the new environment is more positive; and 85 per cent feel that the new office showcases Microsoft as an employer of choice.


THE STUDY 

The Best Employers award is presented by the global human resource and management consultancy firm, Aon Hewitt, which has conducted studies to recognise best employers once every two years since 2001.

It differentiates itself by offering a professional, data-driven approach to recognising best employers through three data sources and an external judging panel.

Companies are chosen based on four measurable factors: high employee engagement, compelling employer brand, effective leadership and high performance culture.

The Best Employers 2013 study process, which began in August last year, concluded with the announcement of the Best Employer awards yesterday.

An employee opinion survey gathered staff perceptions, while a CEO questionnaire captured the chief executive’s approach to managing business and people.

A people practices inventory survey was also conducted with the companies’ human resource department to gather information about the philosophies, policies and practices which affect people in organisations.

Participating companies hailed from various industries such as retail, financial services, heavy industries and transportation, IT, real estate, health care, telecommunications and hospitality.

Besides Microsoft, making the Best Employers list this year are The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, which bagged the inaugural Best of the Best award, as well as Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium and Royal Plaza on Scotts, which were honoured in a new Hotels category. This category was created in recognition of the large number of participating companies in the hospitality sector.

Other Best Employers include American Express, Bain & Company SE Asia Inc, Hilti Far East Pte Ltd, Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore Prison Service.

A Special Recognition Category was also introduced this year, with two awards given out. The Best Employer for Generation Y award went to Bain, while Royal Plaza on Scotts was recognised for its Commitment to Engagement.

Bain was specially applauded for its efforts in reaching out to Gen Y, or young people born between 1979 and 1990, whom organisations have often found difficult to engage.

Extensive local and global training programmes, apprenticeships, flexible career models and other people practices make the global management consulting firm an attractive career option for young talent.

Royal Plaza on Scotts’ special award for Commitment to Engagement recognises its efforts in continuously improving and sustaining employee engagement.

Dialogue sessions between staff of different age groups and the property’s general manager Patrick Fiat are held on a regular basis. There is even a weekly open-door session for any employee who wishes to walk in and have a chat with the general manager.

“Many initiatives were brought about through these open communication channels, such as flexible benefits, omitting of standard clock-in and clock-out practice, children’s education subsidies, birthday leave and a $70,000 lounge for employees to recharge,” says Mr Fiat.


Best practices

Topping the list this year with a Best of the Best award is The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore. The property employs 647 staff whom they call “Ladies” and “Gentlemen”, and has won numerous accolades since opening its doors in 1996.

Says general manager Peter Mainguy: “Our Ladies and Gentlemen have always been the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests. We are extremely honoured to receive this recognition once again. It is a reaffirmation of all the hard work and energy invested daily to ensure that our Ladies and Gentlemen remain at the forefront of everything we do.”

Central to the company’s people-centric practices is giving due recognition to deserving staff. Employees regularly share stories of service excellence displayed by fellow colleagues, and winners are picked on a weekly and monthly basis. Among them, one model employee is selected annually to vie for the Asia-Pacific regional award.

The hotel has a Retention 365 initiative to keep new staff. Feedback sessions and learning programmes are conducted to engage new employees and address any concerns they may have during their first year of employment with the hotel. “HR Guardian Angels” are also attached to them to check on their well-being and provide recognition or assistance.

Weekly Fun Fridays inject fun into the workplace. Activities include food service by senior leaders and department heads at the employee dining room, as well as open house line-ups where all staff are invited to interact and share their ideas across departments and divisions.

 

A healthy, happy workforce

Best Employer recipient Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) prides itself in providing good, fast, affordable and safe health care for patients since 1844.

A unique feature of its integrated People Strategy towards recruitment, engagement and retention is the Employee Promise, which is centred around staff values that were defined by staff themselves. These values include clarity, dialogue, opportunities, equity, respect and quality of life.

Walking the talk in the health-care industry, TTSH believes that a healthier and happier workforce is more productive, and has a slew of work-life balance initiatives and workplace health promotion programmes in place for employees.

“This award energises us to push on and continue to build on our people practices,” says clinical professor Philip Choo Wee Jin, the hospital’s chief executive. “It goes to every single staff member for their contribution in making TTSH a great place for working, healing, learning and becoming the best. I am grateful to each one for keeping our TTSH legacy of 169 years alive, and for making our vision a reality.”