Work-from-anywhere a pipedream for Frontline Blue Collar Deskless Workers



COVID-19 changed the world (& work)

Once upon a time, the world was pre-Covid. 

Remote Work, Work-from-Home (“WFH”), Work-from-Anywhere were almost alien concepts. For many of us, work took place in an office or worksite, in a different place from our homes. Employers expected staff to work together in a common location.

COVID-19 upended the world we knew. But the early days of battling with COVID-19 have also passed, as better knowledge about the virus helped scientists and healthcare professionals to develop vaccines and medical treatment. 

We learnt to live with the virus these past 3 years. 

In our personal lives – we wore face masks, practised social distancing, learnt how to self-test, got vaccinated. 

In our work lives – we adopted digital technologies in new hybrid work arrangements, sometimes working out of the office, more often working-from-home.

Today, we live in a COVID-normal world, almost no different from pre-2020 (with the notable exception of China). No more lockdowns, social distancing or masking requirements. International travel resumed even as Zoom and Google Meet video conferences became second nature. The ArcLab team ourselves have travelled twice to visit our customers in Malaysia, and plan for more visits next year.

Work-from-Anywhere, I will.

As the economy reopened, we resumed international travel with a vengeance. 

But workers were reluctant to make a shorter journey – that of returning to the office. 

Many workers had gotten used to not having to commute, to having much more flexibility to manage our time & tasks, to having more time & interaction with the family and loved ones.

Technology played a part – why do we need to meet and work together in person when tools like Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams helped us to communicate with co-workers, and project management software like Notion and Asana kept everyone on task? 

In fact, work-from-anywhere has now being brought to a whole new level. “Workations”, where professionals travel to a different country to work for an extended period while enjoying leisure travel is “an upcoming workforce train” (quote from this Straits Times article). If you live in a high-cost country, moving to a lower-cost economy to discharge your work duties (without changing job) can end up being financially-productive.

Flexible Work Arrangements like these had now become mainstream. We can now well-and-truly integrate work and play, though there are also downsides from being “always-on”, with no natural break between the workplace and the home (now one and the same).

From the worker’s perspective – it’s the output that matters. Don’t micromanage HOW I do my work, or WHERE i work, as long as I deliver on my responsibilities.


Remote Work, you can't (any more).

Not all employers were 100% comfortable with remote work, even when mandated during early-COVID days in 2020. 

For supervisors used to managing by “line-of-sight”, this new WFH setup was tough. How would I know if my staff was indeed working, or slacking / shirking / “relak one corner” (Singaporean slang)? Some managers had resorted to compulsory “video-on” Zooms, where staff needed to be in front of the computer camera, as “proof-of-work” (pardon the blockchain reference).

The reopening economy this past year was a godsend for many employers, many of whom rolled back Hybrid Work Arrangements as a non-negotiable given.

From the employer’s perspective – I’m paying your salary, so I have the right to mandate how (and where) you work. In 2021, my hands were tied because of COVID restrictions, and also because the economy and job market was hot. In late 2022, with rising interest rates, slowing economies and a loosening labour market, employers could now call the shots. 

If a worker insisted on remote work, companies can now easily find someone else who will work in the office. And if it’s really work-from-anywhere, this also means companies can also give one worker’s job to another from a country where wage demands are lower. 

So holding out for remote work also cuts both ways.

Hybrid Work (Give some, take some).

As with most things, the optimal arrangement is probably somewhere in the middle.

In “Water Cooler Moments” – I shared how ArcLab balances Work-from-Home with In-person collaboration for our team.

We’re an output-driven company, but we also believe there is magic when people come together. So we continue to maintain a hybrid approach. 1 or 2 days per week where everyone comes in (no need for the whole day even), rest of the time work-from-anywhere.

Additionally, ArcLab is not ruling out letting our team members work out of different locations (and countries) for a period of time – as we also take steps towards establishing presence in Southeast Asia, starting with Malaysia next year. 

Having worked in 3 countries, I KNOW for a fact that working abroad can be a great professional experience, and helps us broaden our perspectives as we build out the platform for our customers. I want to provide this opportunity for my team as well.

As long as employers and employees have a shared vision, and recognise we are all playing on the same team – then there’s no us vs them. 

Together, we achieve more. Together, Stronger – as the Welsh football team’s motto proclaims (condolences to Gareth Bale & team at their World Cup 2022 1st round exit at the hands of Harry Kane & England).

For many, WFH is a pipe-dream.

Whatever we’ve read so far – is only for office workers. The white-collar. The professional. The knowledge worker. The digital nomad.

For 2.7 billion Deskless Workers in the world (250 million in Southeast Asia alone), also known as blue-collar, frontline workers – the concept of Remote Work is utterly irrelevant.

#WFH isn’t for everyone – which I wrote early in the pandemic, highlights that a significant percentage of our workers work in Food Services, Construction, Retail, Logistics, Manufacturing, Healthcare etc., and have time-specific and location-specific jobs.

This makes remote work and work-from-anywhere a pipe-dream for our Deskless Workforce.

As employers and employees continue to hammer out optimal work arrangements that are productive yet flexible, spare a thought for our Deskless Workers – who toil in typically lower-wage jobs, on-site, cooking and serving your food, building your homes, and many other essential tasks that keep our economies and our comfortable lives humming.

For employers who employ teams of blue-collar, frontline workers – can we also help them achieve more for the company with the same / less time at the work place?

We certainly can. 

One important component is making workers more productive through effective, efficient training programmes so they don’t spend more time at the worksite in unproductive tasks.

Here are some tips:

1. Making sure businesses processes are streamlined and aptly-communicated. This can be done by devising well-documented Standard Operating Procedures. These SOPs can then be sent directly to Workers’ smartphones, so that they can easily access performance support materials in a fast, easy and accessible manner.

2. Providing workers with continuous training so they are well-equipped to do their jobs. To avoid more time commitment by the workers, which is also time away from the shop floor, Digitalising Training is a great way to improve the efficiency of the training process so more of the knowledge component can be consumed in a “flipped” setting, without the need for in-person training (here’s how F&B companies can do so)

3. Giving Local Language Support for worker training so they can consume training in the native language they are most comfortable with. ArcLab SmartTranslate helps companies train workers in any language, solving the current training roadblocks where too much off-the-shelf training content is in English, and all-too-general for individual companies.

These simple steps go a long way towards creating an effective, productive workforce, who achieve more for your organisation while working on-site, whom you can now justifiably pay the higher salaries, which promote greater company loyalty while improving their lives & livelihoods at the same time.

Uplift your (Deskless) Workforce.

To conclude, ArcLab believes that for the White-Collar workforce – hybrid work arrangements are here to stay, with the exact mix and mechanics the purview of individual employers & employees to agree on.

At the same time, for our Blue-Collar workforce – there is no such hybrid work arrangement yet. 

Deskless Work still needs to be performed on site, at least for the foreseeable future. We believe employers must ensure that workers’ time spent at the workforce be utterly productive, and that can in good part be achieved by creating a continuously upskilled, productive workforce, with organised SOPs that are well-communicated to streamline business processes.

That’s where ArcLab is here to help.

Get started today – create your productive workforce and profitable organisation, and improve your workers’ livelihoods and lives:

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