Companies have flexi-work but employees say they have no access: Survey

PHOTO: Companies have flexi-work but employees say they have no access: Survey

Close to half of the 100 organisations surveyed by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said that they offer flexible work options so that their employees can travel during the off-peak hours.


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Read the full speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister of State, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transport at the Travel Smart Day seminar:

Good morning and a warm welcome to "Travel Smart Day".

We have set aside today for the companies that have been participating in our "Travel Smart" programme, to share best practices in working arrangements which provide flexibility for staff to decide when and how they travel to work. I am grateful to BP, Ernst & Young, IBM and the Public Service Division for being among the first to join "Travel Smart" as partners, and for so generously sharing their experiences today.

Speaking as working person with family commitments, I know many employees appreciate it when such flexibility is made available. At the same time, it makes very good sense for public transport system by distributing travel demand more evenly.

Like other major cities around the world, travel on Singapore's transport network spikes in the morning, when a large proportion of the workforce make their way to work. Public transport infrastructure and capacity have to be sized to cater to these spikes. When more people travel, they often do so during the same peak times.

While we must and will increase public transport capacity to cater to increased travel, it is very useful to promote a greater spread of traffic to other times of the morning. Firstly, doing so will make it more comfortable for commuters. Secondly, it can help to minimise costly use of taxpayers' money to build very large capacity that is needed for a very short peak only.

The Inter-Ministerial Travel Demand Management Workgroup, co-chaired by Dr Amy Khor and myself, was convened to help find ways to even out the peak period travel demand. There are several ways to do so. We can

a. facilitate a shift of travel to the pre- and post-peak periods;

b. encourage alternative and sustainable means of travel such as cycling or walking; or

c. reduce the need to travel altogether.

Employers' support crucial

The Government has given a major boost to encourage commuters to travel earlier. Exactly four weeks ago, we launched the free pre-peak travel trial on our rail system. This has seen some encouraging results.

The morning MRT travel pattern into the city area has seen some smoothening. In the busiest hour of 8-9 am, there has been a drop in the number of exits of 6-7% at city stations. Correspondingly, the number of exits in the pre-peak hour of 7-8 am has increased by 18% to 19%.

I am also pleased to see employers like Rajah & Tann providing "free early bird breakfast" in their office to encourage their staff to travel earlier. BP too, plans to trial a "breakfast club" and organise fitness activities such as brisk-walking and running sessions in the mornings, to encourage their staff to come in earlier.

It is quite likely that the incentive of "free travel" and employers' pro-active initiatives have motivated commuters to examine if they can adjust their travel times. Not everyone is able to but the number who can is potentially much bigger than those who have already shifted.

For example, in a survey of public officers last year, 35% indicated that they would like to change their current work timings. More specifically, 7% indicated that they would like to shift their start times to before 7.45am.

What stands in the way of more commuters adjusting their travel patterns? Besides family commitments that cannot be changed in the short term, the biggest impediment appears to be employer-related.

In a recent survey of 100 organisations carried out by LTA, half the companies did not offer any form of flexi-work arrangements. This is a fairly consistent finding with other recent surveys.

What is perhaps more disturbing is the feedback of employees in companies which offered flexible work arrangements. More than 8 in 10 were either unaware of such arrangements or felt that the arrangements were not available to them. Put it another way, fewer than 1 in 10 employees have access to flexible work arrangements, know about these arrangements and feel they are eligible.

There is clearly much scope for employers to do more to offer and promote flexi-work arrangements, in ways that benefit both employers and employees. This is what "Travel Smart" seeks to address.

Travel Smart can be win-win

In October last year, the LTA launched "Travel Smart", a travel planning consultancy pilot that helps participating companies reduce costs through better understanding their employees' travel patterns. The gist of the "Travel Smart" programme is that companies are provided with detailed information on how their employees commute, and culminates in an Action Plan that helps the company re-organise itself from this perspective, to improve staff efficiency and productivity.

There are 12 organisations from both the private and public sectors with combined staff strength of 30,000 participating in "Travel Smart". To date, seven of these organisations have already put in place their Action Plans.

The initiatives under the Action Plans are quite varied and creative. Among others, the initiatives include:

a. providing more IT facilities to allow tele-commuting and tele-conferencing, thereby saving on office real estate;

b. defining core work hours before or after which meetings are discouraged;

c. allowing staff to work part of the day at home before coming to the office after the peak period;

d. encouraging alternative transport like cycling by providing bicycle parking and shower facilities; and

e. facilitating car-pooling.

I had the opportunity to visit BP's office earlier this morning. BP's Regional Head of Information Technology, Mr Richard Yao told me that BP had chosen to locate their office at HarbourFront so that it would be easy for their staff to use public transport. Indeed, about 70% of their staff use public transport to get to work.

I chatted with some of the employees who had just returned from a jog, and was happy to find that they usually come to the office by 7.30am, before the morning peak period. In fact, I understand that there are many teams in BP which are already adopting a flexible approach to work and it is working well for both the individuals as well as the company.

For the individuals, they enjoy a more serene and comfortable journey, avoiding the peak hour crowd. For the company, it stands to gain from happier, more efficient and more productive employees, and sometimes, lower costs too.

I saw the presentation slides of the other organisations and must say there is quite a treasure trove of ideas to pick from.

Conclusion

To conclude, let me acknowledge that we are still at the early stages of our "Travel Smart" journey.

To our current partners, I commend you for your efforts and look forward to even more creative ways of making "Travel Smart" work for you. To other companies looking to get started, I hope you will translate at least one of the many ideas you hear today into action.