Work From Home : A Malaysia’s case study

On 25th October 2021, Malaysia has tabled some amendments proposal to the Employment Act. Among the proposed amendments, among others, are to bring the Act in line with the standards and practices required by the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the Malaysia-United States Labor Consistency Plan, and the International Labor Organization. Among them, is the flexible working arrangements framework. To make it less vague, it’s just the introduction of work from home in formality.

An employee may apply to an employer for flexible work arrangements including to vary hours of work, days of work or place of work. The proposal does not oblige the employer to approve all applications and just provides that an employer has 60 days, from the date the application is received, to reject or approve the application. If the application is refused, the ground(s) of refusal must be provided.

This goes without saying that for more general and administrative functions, the said flexible arrangements are advantageous and can be implemented with much ease. However, functions such as operations and manufacturing are too company-specific and process-specific to formulate a general model, hence a one-size-fits-all approach will mostly fail. For general and administrative functions, the general advantages (and obvious) are cost and time savings. However, Leaders must also weigh the implications on such arrangement related to long-term productivity, ease of collaboration, employee competencies and employee development. Leaders must also consider of employee’s access to infrastructure (is the space at home a suitable working space with stable internet connectivity?).

To assist Leaders better in their decision-making model, this article will look at some of the risk involved in creating a work from home policy, and how to mitigate the risk accordingly.

Leader’s Readiness

The shift to remote work gave organizations an excellent opportunity to pilot and refine remote work practices. However, before the COVID pandemic, most organizations lacked a well-defined work-from-home policy (WFH). While most organization has since hastily implemented temporary arrangements, there are multiple challenges and impact on productivity.

Work from home statistics as shared by The Star (Source)

Despite the challenge, remote working is still attractive on many counts. Companies enjoy lower indirect costs (real estate pruning, reduced travel as example) and wider access to talent as proximity to office becomes less important. To make decision at Leadership level, policies must be implemented to account for both the capability and culture. Another major obstacle is to address and fix the hastily implemented WFH policy: Acknowledging the shortfall of temporary policy and going back to drawing board to implement a well-rounded policy around collaboration, culture and development.

Remote Working Risk & Mitigation Strategy

Even though remote working probably cost less to the organization and unlocks new opportunity, there are also risks associated with it. Three major risk that has been identified by Isaac Song would be:

Culture and Relationship Risk

Because there is no after hour socializing, or impromptu problem-solving interactions, interpersonal relationship can suffer. This is especially true for new hires where they only know people in much shorter period of time. It’s probably easy to forget that all the water cooler chat or after-hours gathering is a vital source of social glue and innovation generation machine for many organizations. Another key risk that should also be called out under this umbrella, is that it is often under recognized that remote working is usually harsher on working women. Many over the MCO period exited the workforce to fulfill the extra demands of childcare and online schooling. This could impact the overall inclusion and diversity goal if it was set in by an organization. If over the long term, necessary resources are provided (government or organization alike), remote working might just work for these targeted population. (Source)

Mitigation strategy in this risk can be taken directly from this article, where managers will be playing an important role in their employee’s exposure to the culture. By leading through example, managers can help to emphasize and magnify the company culture through deliberating company cultural norms and selectively implement specific actions (define when its acceptable to turn off camera during video conference, or when phone call is better than scheduling a 30 minutes meeting; remote birthday celebration and work anniversary celebration)

Mental Health Issues

According to this article, Malaysians are working more hours than when they are in office during the work from home arrangement. Less face-to-face interaction while business partnering too, may affect psychological states unintentionally. Some of our reader will also recall that, even before the pandemic, work from home also means the employee must be on a “always-on” mind set.

All of these could add up to be a mental health challenge for employees, and administrative employees, are highly exposed to this risk.

Mitigation strategy in this category is a rather straight forward one: Encourage employees to take dedicated time to go offline and don’t bother employee out of office hour. While simple, this might be a challenge to some managers who couldn’t quite understand the concept of leave, which admittedly requires training.

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Cybersecurity Challenges

Administrative functions in general, have access to highly sensitive company information. That information include but not limited to employee personal record, profit margins and revenues. Naturally, a distributed working environment increases the risk to data-security and cyber risks exponentially. For this particular reason alone, certain industries might even opt out of hybrid remote-working model (industries such as banking and healthcare in particular).

Mitigation strategy in this category is a rather broad one. Organizations can bolster end-user training in areas such as threat awareness while beefing up device-security protocols, including new requirements for multifactor authentication, strong-password creation, company-compliant device usage, and software updating. They can also fortify their core computing capabilities by securely digitizing all information exchange, data storage, and cloud access.

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