22nd June 2020
Asia has long been a top destination for expat professionals from a wealth of specialisms, but Covid-19 certainly slowed things down. As border closures were initiated, many planned projects were put on hold and some professionals found themselves unable to relocate to deliver work. Of course, we have seen many employers adapt and allow contractors to work remotely from their home country where possible, but this hasn’t been feasible for everyone.
We’re now reaching a stage where activity is beginning to pick up once again and certain travel is allowed. But does that mean that ‘business as usual’ is returning and the recruitment of contractors across Asia will hit pre-coronavirus peaks again?
A new working environment
Parts of Asia have already begun re-opening. In India, restaurants, places of worship and shopping malls, for example, have opened their doors once again as the country eases some of the restrictions it originally imposed. Economic activities are expected to resume in financial hubs and urban centres including Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
However, while steps are being taken to get the country going again, some businesses appear to be maintaining remote working practices. As HRM Asia revealed in a recent article, many of the largest Indian employers still have staff operating from home despite the ‘Unlock 1’ phase already being launched.
TCS, Infosys and Wirpo employ around 820,000 staff across the country between them. As of the beginning of June, TCS had 95% of its workforce working from home, while 97% of Wirpo’s staff were doing the same. At Infosys, just 2% of it’s employees have returned to the office. And it looks like this might not be a short-term thing.
Wipro apparently expect just 10% of its staff to return to the workplace, while only 25% of TCS employees will be back in the office in the near future, and even then, it won’t be on a full-time basis.
A reluctance to return to work
While for many businesses the idea of keeping staff working remotely has been a natural progression as enforced lockdowns revealed the benefits of home working practices, for staff themselves there also appears to be a general reluctance to return to the office. With the death toll rising for some destinations, this is perhaps understandable.
If we look at Singapore, for example, there’s certainly an air of concern from workers themselves. The country began it’s first phase of re-opening at the beginning of the month, allowing those businesses without the option of home working to get staff back on-site again. If the destination remains on track, the second phase will begin at the end of June with those working remotely set to be allowed back to the office provided safety measure and social distancing are in place.
But according to a recent survey, Singapore citizens aren’t as optimistic as its government. In its ‘Return to Work & Back to Business’ study, Qualtrics found 59% of the population aren’t comfortable returning to their workplace, despite 66% of Singaporeans expecting to be back at work by July.
But what would encourage more people to return to the office environment? While treatment of or a vaccine for Covid-19 topped the list, there were a number of caveats that staff want to see implemented before they feel it’s safe to get back to work, including:
- All employees have to wear masks (cited by 69% of those surveyed)
- Hand-sanitizer and cleaning products should be available (68%)
- Staff under-go temperature checks (23%)
- A 14-day self-quarantine period imposed for anyone choosing to travel for work or personal reasons (52%)
There was also a clear demand from staff to allow remote working if they want, with 93% of those surveyed stating it is important to them that their employer allows them to choose this option should they feel unsafe at work.
Speaking to HRM Asia, Mao Gen Foo, Head of Southeast Asia, acknowledged the challenge this sentiment is having on the transition back to work and urged employers to help their people get back to work at a safe and comfortable pace:
“Employee and customer expectations have accelerated at an unprecedented rate in recent months, with more than half of Singaporeans feeling uncomfortable about returning. Organisations and governments need to understand how employee and customer behaviours and attitudes have changed so that they can take actions helping them feel confident during this next phase of the ‘new normal’.”
What does this mean for the recruitment of contractors in Asia?
For recruiters placing expats across the region, this creates both a challenge and an opportunity. Understandably, much of the sentiment surrounding the return to office spaces will be felt by contract professionals too, so there may be a reluctance to either travel to a new country for work where borders are reopened or return to office spaces. As the go-between for contractors and employers, recruiters will certainly be feeling the pressure in this aspect.
On the flip side, though, with more staff reluctant to return to work, there’s likely to be an increase in demand for contract professionals to fill resourcing gaps, so where expats are willing to get back to work, recruiters may soon find a spike in demand for their contractors.
The current situation also creates an additional compliance headache for recruiters. While it’s great that some employers are allowing expats to work remotely from their home country or are extending contracts to keep experts on the ground, this will have a knock-on effect for an individual’s tax determination. If a person is working in their home country for a project overseas, they will be taxed differently than if they lived in their place of work, for example. And if a contract is being extended, visa requirements have to be considered along with changes to work agreements.
All of this creates a real administrative burden for recruiters, so it’s vital to seek expert advice to limit the risk to your firm. Contact our team of specialists today to find out how they can help your firm and the contractors it places across Asia and beyond.