Just a few years ago employers would never have imagined there would come a day where their entire workforce would have to work remotely on a regular basis. The concept of allowing employees to work from anywhere else that is not their designated workplace has existed for a long time, but having employees gather in the same office/work premise on a daily basis has still remained as the dominant practice – until the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic changed almost every aspect of Malaysian lifestyles.
While advanced technology has enabled communication and work to be done effectively remotely, businesses were still skeptical and concerned about the productivity of their employees. However, the coronavirus has put the remote work model to the test as many companies were prompted to allow their employees to work from home (WFH) to maintain public health and safety. So, how are Malaysian WFH arrangements currently faring?
What is Remote Work?
Remote work, also commonly known as work from home (WFH) is a work arrangement that allows employees to do their work from their place of residence or any alternative location instead of their usual place of work such as offices, work sites, and stores. This arrangement is also sometimes referred to as telecommuting – a modern work approach which takes advantage of the mobility and convenience that the internet and modern technology are able to offer.
So, what does WFH actually entail? There are several requirements to effectively work from home especially in terms of technology. The individual would need a stable internet connectivity, a suitable work space, a workable schedule, and most importantly devices that enable communication and work to be done such as personal computers, tablets, phones, etc. Besides that, the individual needs to consider how to deal with potential disruptions from children, pets, and other forms of disturbances.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Work From Home
The pandemic has taught the global community the importance of work flexibility in a major crisis where mobility is limited. Although the change in working arrangements was sudden and unexpected, causing problems to business as employers had to find ways to help employees access tools and materials required for their work, reality showed that people were indeed capable of adopting WFH. Many office-based teams were more productive than they were when working in the office as they enjoyed the benefits remote work had to offer.
One of the most cited benefits was work-life balance. Remote work provided more flexible schedules, allowing employees to control when they get their work done. Some jobs set deadlines, giving free reign to individuals on their work schedule. Other jobs set fixed working hours, allowing individuals to adjust their work times according to their needs.
Another advantage of WFH is reducing commute stress. Be it being stuck in a jam or getting packed into a crowded train, many people were relieved that they did not have to go through these experiences everyday while working from home. Research has shown that daily commute to and from work also contributed to higher levels of stress. As such, avoiding this daily hassle not only saved time wasted but improved overall health.
One major benefit of remote work to both employers and employees was the increased opportunities from location independence. As WFH became a trend, individuals had access to a broader range of job opportunities that were not limited to location. Individuals could take on overseas jobs without having to move abroad. Employers were also able to have a larger pool of potential workers and talents to choose from.
As appealing as remote work may sound, there are also disadvantages. The lack of tools and equipment is a major concern for employees. Some people do not have the technological requirements to carry out their work effectively, causing stress and anxiety. Moreover, setting up a work space at home could also be costly. The lack of a proper working environment would lead to decreased motivation and productivity.
Moreover, the issue of communication affected both employers and employees. Lack of communication could result in misunderstandings that disrupted work efficiency. Some employees also felt isolated without the usual face-to-face interactions. Communication tools were not as efficient as brainstorming together in the office.
Generally, white collar workers benefit from remote work more than blue collars. Oftentimes, white collars can complete their work virtually. However, blue collars suffer the most such as workers in construction sites which had to be temporarily halted during the worst of the pandemic, where the idea of working from home just doesn’t exist.
Malaysian WFH Arrangements
With Malaysia now transitioning towards treating COVID-19 as an ongoing endemic rather than a full-on pandemic, restrictions have become more lax. Many companies are able to resume business as per usual while following Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).
In 3Q’21, with most states in the country moving into Phase 2 or Phase 3 of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) where businesses are allowed to open again, more than half of Malaysians (52%) are seen to be back working in the office full time, with Malaysian WFH being a smaller percentage out of all working arrangements.
The percentage is especially high among non-PMEB (60%) compared to PMEB (44%). It is a given considering non-PMEB occupations usually require them to work in the office such as unskilled workers, admins, government workers, etc.
As for marital status, 61% of single individuals are already back in their offices while less than half of married individuals (48%) have returned. Single individuals are probably able to switch working arrangements faster due to them having lesser family commitments as compared to married individuals who may require more time to readjust themselves to the “working from office full time” arrangement.
There is no significant difference between Generation Z and Generation Y in their working arrangements. However, Generation X are slightly skewed towards hybrid work arrangement at 30% compared to Generation Z and Generation Y that are only around 20%.
The Advantages of WFH
Adopting technologies at 50% overall is one of the top advantages gained during the work from home period. Adopting new technology helps to increase efficiency as most technology is made to aid humans in their daily tasks. Malaysians are also seen to be having a healthier lifestyle such as better work-life balance (46%), better eating habits (45%), and feeling less stress (42%). Additionally, they benefit from having better time management with more family time (44%) and saving travelling time (42%) during this period.
The Challenges of WFH
On the flip side, the top 5 challenges that Malaysians experienced while WFH are related to the lack of infrastructure for remote working. The most cited issue was problems accessing tools/software (55%) as well as accessing files and documents (39%). Other issues include lack of proper work set-up such as having to take calls around people (45%), the need to attend to schooling children’s needs (38%) and lack of collaboration/brainstorming (33%).
Internet Technology (IT) related issues like slow/unstable internet or mobile connection and difficulties in getting IT support also pose a problem to individuals when it comes to Malaysian WFH arrangements.
PMEB Advantages and Challenges of WFH
Looking into the work positions, Professionals, Managers, Executives, Businessowners (PMEBs) find that they are able to focus better and achieve better work-life balance (51%) while WFH. They also have the ability to focus better (42%). Top 5 challenges faced by PMEBs remained similar to total levels, though 60% of the PMEBs had difficulties in accessing tools/software needed for their job during WFH period. Similar sentiments were also seen among married malaysians.
Non-PMEB Advantages and Challenges of WFH
In the case of non-PMEBs, the ability to save travelling time (52%) tops the advantages list. At the same time, they are also more likely to feel less stress (47%) while WFH. This is in line with research that states daily commute to work is related to higher levels of stress. Aside from lack of infrastructure and proper work set-up, slow/unstable internet connection (36%) appeared to be one of the top 5 challenges that non-PMEBs experienced when they WFH.
Single Malaysians Advantages and Challenges of WFH
Based on the statistics, singles emphasise less on work-life balance and having more family time probably because they don’t have much family commitments. Instead, they appreciate WFH because they are able to save travelling time (47%) and money (37%). At the same time they also have the ability to focus better (33%) at home. On the other hand, the “ability to focus better” was not among the top advantages for PMEBs or married individuals. This is expected, given that most people in those groups had “attending to schooling childrens needs” as one of their top challenges.
Accessing tools/ software/ files/ documents and having to take calls around people are still among the top challenges for single Malaysians. In addition to that, poor experience with internet (33%) or mobile (28%) connection came out to be top challenges for single individuals.
Top 5 Communication Tools Used During Malaysian WFH
Among the various communication tools in the market, WhatsApp (71%), Zoom (69%) and Google Meet (56%) are the top 3 tools that Malaysians used while WFH. Although Skype (17%) and Microsoft Teams (13%) are among the top 5 communication tools used during Malaysian WFH, they are both far less popular when compared to WhatsApp, Zoom and Google Meet.
Based on work positions, PMEBs rely less on WhatsApp (59%) to communicate while WFH. Meanwhile, adoption of Zoom is higher among PMEBs at 79% followed by Google Meet (66%) and Skype (22%). For singles, WhatsApp (74%) is their main communication tool. There is significantly less use for Zoom at 49% and Microsoft Teams which is only 5%.
Malaysian WFH or WFO?
Overall, it appears that Malaysians prefer to work in the office more (48%) while close to 30% prefer working from home.
Looking into the different work positions, 37% of the PMEBs are happier working from home (though the majority of business owners tend to prefer working in the office more). While more than half of the non-PMEB (51%) are back to working in office full time as seen previously, there’s a sizeable group who prefer to be on a hybrid working arrangement (31%).
In terms of marital status, singles are once again seen to be highly skewed towards working in office (63%) since they have less family commitments, whereas majority of those the married individuals prefer to WFH (30%) or mixture of work arrangement (28%) since they cherish their family time and work-life balance lifestyle.
Generation Z and Generation Y share similarity when it comes to working arrangement preference. On the other hand, 63% of Generation X has higher preference towards working in office compared to the other generations.
In the long run, it’s difficult to tell if Malaysian WFH arrangements will become the dominant trend rather than the traditional office arrangement. However, with new variants of the coronavirus emerging every now and then such as the latest Omicron, business owners should improve their remote work policies to prepare for any scenario where we might have to refrain from having people gather in offices again. Solving the major challenges people face while WFH will greatly improve its prospects as an alternative work arrangement, which in turn will help companies to solve potential performance issues even in the face of emergencies and unforeseen circumstances.
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