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A home away from home

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Serviced apartments are no longer a “nice to have” for companies and their mobile employees. As more organisations choose these abodes over other forms of housing, Sabrina Zolkifi finds out what the appeal is and how it impacts productivity.

As the saying goes, there is no place like home.

But in a world where there is high demand for employees to be on the move and, in some instances relocate temporarily, some are forced to settle for second best.

For HR leaders and travelling employees, this is where serviced apartments come into the picture, providing clients with comfortable residences and a wide range of amenities to marry the best of both worlds.

The Apartment Service’s Global Serviced Apartment industry report for 2013/2014 reported Asia Pacific has seen a massive increase in serviced units over the past 10 years – it estimates the unit of units to hover around 655,990 in over 8,800 locations globally.

The report also found Singapore boasts the second highest number of apartments per 1,000 business visitors (1.8), only lagging behind London at 1.2.

A separate survey by Chesterton found at the end of 2013, Singapore had 5,835 serviced apartment units, with an increased in occupancy rates as well, from 80.9% in 2012 to 84.5% last year.

“This growth in demand has been fuelled by the global economic recession, particularly amongst corporates who have turned to serviced apartments as a cost-effective alternative to long-term hotel stays,” Global Serviced Apartment’s report said.

For many HR leaders, the decision to put employees up in serviced apartments is an easy one.

“We want employees to feel that they have more space, privacy and a home away from home,” Rebecca Pearce, HR director for global operations in Southeast Asia at Dyson, says.

However, those luxuries may come at a price.

According to Chesterton, the daily average rate for a serviced apartment unit in Singapore last year was $279.

This is slightly higher than the average rate of gazetted hotel rooms in Singapore, which averaged at $263 in 2013, the Ministry of Trade and Industry reported.

But HR leaders should be careful about being too fixed on cost and sourcing for the cheapest apartment.

“Focusing purely on rate is not the way to calculate the real return on investment to the corporate,” Charles McCrow of The Apartment Service said in the report.

Pearce agrees, saying: “Make your employees feel valued by giving them a good experience holistically.

“Many of the employees may go on to live or relocate permanently to Singapore so make sure that their accommodation gives them the right impression.”

Home sweet home

Priscilia Yap, a mobility manager in an international sporting brand, says the deciding factor for her about whether an employee should be placed in a serviced apartment is the duration of their stay.

“Typically, for temporary stays longer than two weeks, we would recommend employees to put up in a serviced apartment,” she says.

“This is especially so for employees relocating with families, as the amenities would provide them with better comfort such as kitchen facilities.”

She believes this level of comfort has a direct impact on an employee’s productivity level when working abroad.

Generally, when the family needs are taken care of, it often translates to a more productive employee.

Pearce adds this is true as well for all employees: “If you feel more at home you can concentrate on your day job more easily.”

There are also social benefits for employees living in serviced apartments rather than a hotel room. The former allows tenants to host social events and guests, something that many hotels may not be able to accommodate.

Serviced apartments also often boast kitchens or cooking areas, adding to that “at home” feel which may be missing from other housing alternatives.

When picking a service apartment for staff, HR leaders should take in mind the residences’ proximity to the office, accessibility and leisure facilities, Pearce says.

They should also take in mind the ease of working with and dealing with the serviced apartment provider.

However, despite the increase in number of serviced apartment, HR leaders need to be wary.

Serviced apartments are less strictly regulated in Singapore, and one has resulted in possibly more “wannabe entrants” including private owners and developers, Chesterton’s report warned.

“Instead of offering full-scale serviced apartments, landlords may offer apartments with services – bundling housekeeping and repair maintenance services. It’s an easy task of taking a vacant residential property and putting a label on the door claiming that it is now a serviced apartment,” it said.

This is a sentiment which Yap echoes: “In Singapore, we have seen and continue seeing many new ‘serviced apartment’ offerings in the market or over the internet.

Organisations may sometimes cave in to explore more cost efficient temporary lodging options or when the office is located outside prime business districts, there could be a need to look for alternatives other than traditional serviced apartments.

She adds it is important to research on the establishment and make sure they’re in compliance with the necessary authorities.

“After all, the employees’ well-being is of utmost priority,” she says.

***

When a house becomes a home

Sabrina Zolkifi puts together a serviced apartment checklist when choosing temporary accommodation for staff.

Picking a home can be stressful work, especially if you’re doing it on someone else’s behalf.

When helping employees pick out the best option for serviced apartments, there are a few things HR should keep in mind.

  • Does the residence provide basic needs?

While it may be important the apartment is located within amenities such as shopping mall, schools (for employees with families), public transportation and medical care, don’t forget to also check if the unit comes furnished.

Household facilities such as in-house laundry and kitchen apparels may be small items, but can go a long way in making staff feel at home. Besides, it’s one more thing they don’t have to worry about, giving them more time to focus on their role.

  • Have you asked about their preferences?

It’s easy to pick a serviced apartment and consider it a one-size-fits-all solution, but remember that at the end of the day, the people who need to be most comfortable are the employees.

Sit them down for a quick chat to go through the housing arrangements, and see if there’s anything the company can do to meet their needs.

It may be impossible to relocate them to another apartment or lease a separate unit use to cater to their requests, but making an effort to show them you can and will do what you can to help will make the process smooth for the employee and their families.

  • Are you being transparent with cost?

Each company has their own set of policies when it comes to accommodation benefits. Some only provide assistance in finding a unit, while others may offer to pay for rent and amenities as well.

Make sure HR, line managers and employees are clear which costs are taken care of by the organisation and which will come out of the tenant’s pockets. Also go through issues such as home repairs and renovations. The earlier you manage these expectations and rules, the less agony for everyone if something crops up.

  • Do employees have a direct line of support in case of emergencies?

On the off chance that something does crop up, make sure employees and their families have a contact point they can get in touch with.

This could be someone from the serviced apartment or your HR team. Having a single contact point will be very helpful during stressful situations.



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