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Sweetener for firms to help beat rush hour

NO OVERNIGHT FIX: Mrs Teo said attitudes towards flexi-work and travel must also change and this will take time.


    Jul 31, 2014

    Sweetener for firms to help beat rush hour

    COMMUTE to work before the morning rush hour and arrive at the office early for a free yoga session or, perhaps, a breakfast.

    These are some of the ways employers can encourage their staff to travel on public transport during the off-peak period, and which the Government will be lending a hand to support.

    Through the Travel Smart Network programme launched yesterday, it will offer grants of up to $160,000 annually, for three years, to co-fund initiatives by companies to make their workplaces more supportive of flexible travel arrangements.

    Besides morning exercise classes, the grants can also be used to build shower facilities, or install bicycle parking facilities to encourage cycling to work. Funding can also be used to conduct human resource workshops and to appoint a coordinator in the company to drive the flexi-travel efforts.

    Companies can also receive up to $30,000 to engage consultants to help them study employee travel patterns and behaviour.

    The grants will bolster an ongoing trial to get commuters to travel before the morning rush hours, by offering them free MRT rides if they exit at one of the 18 city-area train stations before 7.45am on weekdays.

    The initial one-year trial, which started in June last year and aimed to ease commuter congestion during the rush hours, had been extended by another year.

    Only about 7 per cent of commuters opted to travel between 7am and 8am, instead of the peak hour between 8am and 9am.

    Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said that while the Government can provide companies with resources, attitudes towards flexi-work and travel must also change and this will take time. She added that many managers could have concerns about whether these arrangements can affect productivity or effectiveness at work.

    She noted that for the 12 companies which took part in a pilot since October 2012 to shift their employees' travel patterns by offering initiatives like telecommuting, it took time for managers to come on board.

    Stephen Tjoa, partner for people, performance and culture at KPMG, said that under 15 per cent of the 2,400 employees have taken up flexible hours. "It's slowly picking up steam... Maybe less than 10 per cent work from home... it's more challenging to push and, for people, it's a mindset shift as well," Mr Tjoa added.

    Elaine Brick, associate director for transportation at consultancy AECOM, said that a sample survey of employees from those 12 firms found that 50 per cent said they are willing to change their travel patterns.

    However, Ms Brick said the majority of barriers were workplace-related, including the need to attend meetings in the office, and a preference to align the working day with their teams. Some also felt that their arrangements would be not be seen as acceptable by colleagues, she adds.

    Mark Hall, country manager of Kelly Services Singapore said the main hurdle to flexi-work is a "perceived importance of face-time in the office".

    Besides concerns of how senior management may perceive their time away from the office, employees tend to take on more work to demonstrate their value in a competitive environment, Mr Hall added.

    Wei Leng Tan, head of marketing, South East Asia at video-conferencing company Polycom said the majority of the over 100-strong staff in Singapore are on a flexible work arrangement.

    Staff and their managers agree on "clear, measurable outcomes for the work day or week" and this ensures the work gets done, even during the World Cup 2014 period, when employees were allowed to come in later or collaborate using video from a place of their choice, she said.