Making WFH Work In Organisations

By Dr Vimi Ramasamy

work from home malaysia

According to a Gartner Inc. survey done across 800 human resources executives in March this year, 88% of organizations have encouraged or required their employees to work from home.

Many organizations, which never have thought about this flexibility were forced to do so, within a short timeframe to sustain their business under these dire lockdown situations. This not only impacted private sectors, but even government sectors also had to resort to a similar situation.

On the hindsight, indeed it is perhaps one of the positives of this pandemic – adaptation to digital technology has accelerated. 

History reveals that home and work shared spaces have been present over many centuries, however the term work from home was introduced during the technology evolution in the 1970ies.  Robert Half’s survey done in U.S.A. in 2018, showed that 77% of employees said that they would be more likely to accept a job if it offered the ability to WFH at least some of the time. 

Many organizations, which never have thought about this flexibility were forced to do so, within a short timeframe to sustain their business under these dire lockdown situations.

Further, 2020 statistics as reported in in U.S.A., quotes that nearly 3.6% of workforce, approximately 5 million employees WFH at least half of the time. The number of WFH telecommuting employees (apart from self-employed workers) has grown by 173% within 15 years, which is astounding.

In Malaysia, as shared in the News Straits Times dated April 18 this year, WFH used to be a privilege offered by a handful of companies in the country, but now, with the Movement Control Order (MCO) in place, it has become the norm. More and more organisations are thinking of moving towards adopting WFH even after the MCO being lifted as they are able to see the benefits of doing so. 

Everyone Benefits From WFH, If It’s Planned Well

WFH has tremendously reduced operating cost, such as lower utilities and lower space requirements, while still maintaining or even in some cases increased productivity.

According to McKinsey & Company in their report on re-imagining the office and work-life after COVID-19, states 80 per cent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home. Forty-one per cent say that they are more productive than they had been before and 28 per cent that they are as productive.

Whereas, for the employees it is better work life balance, reduces commuting time and cost, increased productivity, healthier and stress-free living. All these benefits certainly provide a compelling reason to move towards WFH.

Though there are significant drivers to push for WFH, which has been accelerated with Covid-19 pandemic, there are challenges which prevent many companies to adopt them.

Organisational Concerns About WFH

Organisations are concerned with: 

  • changing their normal working culture that may impact productivity
  • managing the employees effectively – be it assessing the deliverables, appraisals and driving organisation mission and vision and collaboration/teamwork
  • enabling technology that is required to support WFH
  • data privacy
WFH Challenges That Employees Grapple With

Whereas the employees are concerned with

  • unplugging from work as there is a thin line between work and home
  • collaboration with other co-workers, especially in learning the job
  • career growth – appraisal, promotion
  • loneliness/stress – minimal and mainly job-related interactions
  • keeping themselves motivated
  • distractions from home
  • technology capability and availability at their home
  • different time zones with colleagues 

It is apparent that many employees who are just embarking on the WFH are eager with the ability to work remotely, however studies have shown that many who have been doing the work remotely for more than a decade may suffer from higher level of stress.

A report on Working anytime, anywhere states: The effects on the world of work in 2017, by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions suggested that 41 per cent of remote employees report higher levels of stress compared with just 25 per cent of their counterparts who work in the office. 

Although WFH may not be applicable for all types of jobs it is crucial that organisations that embark on this journey take the necessary steps to understand the work environment, people, policy and technology needs to ensure the WFH is amicably set up to reap the best results.

Can Organisations Improve WFH For Employees?

Below are few recommendations for organisations to look at:

  • Assessment on the type of work, data privacy needs and determining what type of work is suitable for this purpose
  • Availability of technology to both enable employees to do their work remotely and to monitor the deliverables
  • Clear WFH policy that is tailored to encourage and enable work from home; i.e benefits, rewards, career plan
  • Clear expectations on what is expected from the employee when they are WFH
  • Ensuring managers are skilled to manage employees who WFH
  • Ensuring the right process are in place for the type of work done remotely 
Strategies For A Better WFH Experience

Employees, need to consider the following for better WFH experience:

  • Dedicating a specific place for work at home – that is safe and ergonomic
  • Ensuring proper connectivity and necessary technology is available to perform the work
  • Planning the working hours and deliverables – sharing with managers and co-workers. It is important to note for certain type of job, the working hours are flexible, and employee may choose the time based on lease interruption, while being in a family environment. Additionally, short breaks should be mapped in, which may not be applicable while working at the office.
  • Sharing work expectation with family members – especially important to ensure minimal interruption during working hours and employees don’t overwork.
  • Schedule communication sessions with managers
  • Schedule chat time/gathering with co-workers to talk about other stuff apart from work

It does not matter where you work – what matters is what you do with the work.  In the words of Aristotle, we are what we repeatedly do!