The hybrid work arrangement option

AFTER two painful years of being ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses have to rebuild themselves.

The collapse in businesses and deteriorating earnings have led to the surge in unemployment and falling income amid rising expenditure has become a worrying trend.

Businesses have to change their work arrangements as the government pushed the work-form-home agenda. Employees, on the other hand, had the flexibility of working remotely and to a certain extent, productivity has increased, according to consultants.

In the new normal working environment, there is also a lot of thought on hybrid work arrangements coupled with the challenges that have an impact on productivity.

EY Consulting Sdn Bhd people advisory services partner Low Choy Huat, Deloitte Malaysia talent leader Tan Hooi Beng, PwC Malaysia director of people and organisation Indra Dhanu Dipak and KPMG Malaysia executive director of people and change advisory Sharmini Ann Jacob share their thoughts.

StarBizWeek: How should organisations strategise their workforce as the country move from the crisis response phase to the recovery phase? Low: As we move to recovery phase, organisations should reassess their strategic workforce options on “how they work”, “where they work” and “when they work”. Hybrid work arrangements is an option to consider as not all employees feel safe to return to work. The Covid-19 work-from-home arrangement was a huge experiment to see if some jobs could be done remotely without sacrificing productivity and culture. Therefore, a balance between office and remote work is highly encouraged as an option.

Low Choy HuatLow Choy Huat

Tan: With the experience of dealing with Covid-19, organisations should harness best practices discovered during the various lock downs and adopt it as part of their post-pandemic plans. Organisations need to think about the overall changing work landscape, beyond the pandemic. They need to adapt and pivot to meet the different needs of both the workplace and the workforce.

Indra: Organisations should look beyond traditional talent channels including leveraging on short-term virtual assignments supported by talents in geographically dispersed locations, allowing job rotation to tap on latent skills or exploring career comeback options for those who have taken a career break. They should also find new avenues to digitise their workforce to cater to new expectations on productivity and efficiency in this landscape. As such, companies must build a flexible work environment as flexibility increasingly becomes a factor for retention and employee engagement.

Sharmini: Our ‘KPMG 2021 CEO Outlook’ survey revealed that 68% of chief executive officers (CEOs) in Asia-Pacific are placing more capital investment in buying new technology and building human capability with 49% planning to invest in digital training, development and upskilling to ensure employees’ skills remain future-focused.

Are productivity issues something that organisations are grappling with and what are the solutions they should be looking at? Tan: Quite the contrary, productivity has increased during the lockdown period. With less time spent on commuting, traffic, and transit time between meetings, we are now utilising every minute to its fullest. We now get more done in a day’s work. What is more of a concern is lockdown fatigue where people are continuously working with little rest and relaxation.

Tan Hooi BengTan Hooi Beng

Sharmini: According to KPMG’s ‘The Work-From-Home Revolution 2020’ survey, insights from over 3,000 respondents revealed that those with the capability and capacity to leverage on communication platforms and were willing to adopt to new technology reported an increase in their productivity levels. However, from an organisation standpoint, the top three challenges that have a major impact on productivity levels within Malaysian companies include network issues, communication barriers and lack of technological readiness.

Low: The most effective way to deal with productivity is through automation. Robotic process automation and digital tools can help defuse the “trust deficit” between employers and employees when someone is not seen in the office physically. Many studies have also shown that empowerment can motivate employees to deliver more and hence, improve productivity.

Will unemployment continue to be a problem and what solutions should governments, companies and unemployed/retrenched/furloughed individuals be looking at? Low: One way to address unemployment is through the acquisition of new, future-focused skills that are highly sought by employers and various economic sectors. The government has launched many programmes and incentives to reskill the Malaysian workforce. However, execution is key. The success of those initiatives will depend on factors including the take-up rates, speed of reskilling as well as the individual motivation to be upskilled or reskilled.

Sharmini: The government should continue its efforts of job-creation, incentivising the transformation and digitalisation of businesses thus enabling Malaysian industries to remain internationally competitive and resilient to the future business landscape. In turn, organisations should leverage on these initiatives and stimulus packages which include wage subsidies, reskilling and upskilling programmes, hiring, and providing training assistance to continue expand their talent network and equip their people with necessary skills to thrive in this digital economy.

With the support initiatives available to create stronger employment demand in line with the shift towards the digital economy, Malaysian jobseekers can also venture into entrepreneurship and business startups.

Sharmini Ann JacobSharmini Ann Jacob

Indra: PwC Malaysia’s 2021 Hopes and Fears survey on technology, jobs and skills found that 71% of Malaysians polled are concerned that automation is putting many people’s jobs at risk. The solution could very well lie in a multi-faceted approach involving the government, businesses and learning providers, and individuals.

Businesses can contribute by providing guidance on the nature and types of skills required in consultation with the government or in a more granular way, participate in programmes to impart digital skills to deserving groups, be it micro, small and medium enterprises or to those retrenched or unemployed. What’s encouraging is that 88% of the respondents in our survey say that they are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain in order to be employable in the future.

Will the different working requirements from the office create an attraction for employees perhaps for those who prefer to work-from-home? Low: Yes it can, depending on the workforce strategy and approach. The ‘new office’ should aim to be a magnet for employees to return to collaborate, share and reconnect. Based on our ‘Work Reimagined Employee Survey 2021’, employees are expecting their employers to provide better collaboration technology, spaces for collaboration or innovation and improved facilities for networking.

Tan: Some new practices adopted during the movement control order should continue, for example hybrid working arrangements. This opens up possibilities to further enhance certain initiatives for example, more flexibility for working parents and those who need to care for elderly parents or ill family members.

Indra Dhanu DipakIndra Dhanu Dipak

Fifty-five per cent of Malaysians polled in our “2021 Hopes and Fears” survey prefer a mostly virtual working environment. Providing some form of remote work is expected to become the hygiene factor as flexibility and well-being become increasingly valued in this disruptive landscape. Organisations who may not be able to evolve will face stiff competition in the war for talent as remote or hybrid working is fast becoming an expectation among talents.

Sharmini: Studies have indicated that the different working arrangements provided by an organisation will more likely attract a wider pool of talents. People will now have the option of engaging with organisations in a different geographical area because of the flexibility to work without travelling. Flexibility in providing options to work from home or from the office will greatly inspire the employees, especially the millennials.

Global forecast has stated that by 2025, millennials will comprise of more than half of the workforce, and from what we have seen, flexibility and freedom are their main priorities. Most seem to like the idea of being “digital nomads” –travelling the world while still being employed.

However, we must also be wary and address how the different working arrangements affect communication, performance, compensation, data security, regulation as well as policies within the organisation.

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