Career and Workplace

3 Pitfalls To Avoid With Hybrid Work

In line with the Malaysian government’s requirements at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Aveenash (not his real name)’s employer implemented a remote working policy for the entire company.

A year later, when restrictions were finally relaxed, the same employer demanded that all employees return to the office, five days a week. Aveenash protested. He and his elderly mother at home were still waiting to be vaccinated. So were some of his colleagues from work.

His boss, however, refused to have any of it. He told Aveenash it was his way or else to look for another job. Aveenash gave in, albeit reluctantly, for fear of losing his job. Two weeks later, he and four other colleagues tested positive for Covid after experiencing flu-like symptoms. Management was forced to close the office again, and all employees returned to working from home.

The lesson to be learned from Aveenash’s story is that there is a right and wrong way to welcome your employees back to the workplace (and we know which path Aveenash’s boss chose!)

Now that Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccination rate is at 78% as of 5 December 2021, more and more employers are encouraging a hybrid work model, where their employees work a few days from home and other days where they work physically at the office. Some well-known companies that have successfully implemented hybrid working are Hubspot, Spotify and Dropbox, and closer to home Naga DDB Tribal, Celcom, Maxis, Digi and Pantai Hospital.

As a CHRO, you don’t want to make the same mistake that Aveenash’s boss did. Your staff members need to feel safe and secure in the workplace and it is your responsibility to ensure this. Do all the right things by your employees and you’ll get things done right for your organisation in terms of achieving business outcomes.

Part of getting things done right is knowing what not to do. To help you navigate this tricky path, here are three key pitfalls to avoid when implementing hybrid working.

Pitfall no. 1: Ignoring what employees need

It’s really not rocket science, is it? When your employees have gotten accustomed to working from home during the pandemic, do you really think they will relish returning to the office once the dust settles (and who knows when that will be)? When they have been spared gruelling commutes, get to spend more time with their loved ones and even work in their loungewear or pyjamas?

The answer is usually a firm no. And there is data to back up this claim, too. A study by SEEK Asia found that 68% of the 5,649 Malaysian respondents in the study said they would opt for a hybrid work arrangement, namely a combination of remote and on-site (compared to 44% globally).

A quarter (25%) said they would prefer a completely remote arrangement (very close to the global average of 24%), while 7% would prefer to be on-site completely, the SEEK Asia report found.

In other words, CHROs need to pay more attention to employee needs and wants. Businesses out there are hiring, and if your company is unable to provide the employee decent working hours and conditions with flexible and/or remote working options, expecting them to be in the office more than three days a week is not going to go down well with them. Therefore, the onus is upon you to adhere to their needs, for a happy employee is a productive employee.

Pitfall no. 2: Compromising employee health and safety

In Aveenash’s case, his boss forced employees to return to the office although not all of them had been vaccinated, thus causing five of his ten key employees to fall ill with Covid.

Let’s examine what the boss could have done to avoid this unfortunate event. Firstly, the company should have had all the employees take Covid tests before being allowed to return to the office, irrespective of whether they had been already vaccinated.

The Malaysian government approved and introduced the use of Covid-19 saliva testing kits in July, prompting many local companies and multinational corporations to make periodic testing mandatory for their employees who wanted to return to their physical office spaces.

While some may argue that this borders on being pedantic, the reality is that as a CHRO, you need to keep all employees safe. Hence, being firm about everyone getting tested is the safest way to ensure their health and safety are not compromised.

An additional safety measure that needs to be implemented is safe social distancing within the workplace, as well as the sanitisation of common areas and workstations, for the safety of all. There are companies who cut corners by ignoring these, but chances are that this will only go awry and cost the company far more in the long run.

Pitfall no. 3: Assuming outdated workplace practices still apply

While CHROs need to prioritise employee well-being, work-life balance and health, an area often ignored is resources. Employees need learning and development opportunities, as well as relevant resources so they can work effectively, both at home and in the office.

Employees are fully aware of the benefits of remote and hybrid work models, as seen by the EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey, where seven in ten of Southeast Asia respondents said hybrid work arrangements will increase productivity and creativity. Furthermore, the majority of respondents said that a new mix of onsite and remote work would increase the company’s productivity (73%) and creativity (75%).

Yet, it would seem that many employers in Southeast Asia are not equipping their employees with the right resources. In the EY survey, 73% of respondents expressed that they want better technology in the office (such as faster internet and videoconferencing), 52% want companies to upgrade at-home hardware (e.g. extra monitors and headsets) and 51% want reimbursements for high-speed internet or phone expenses.

Denying employees access to the resources they really need will only lead to job dissatisfaction, and ultimately, diminished employee productivity. CHROs need to step up and ensure that management supplies employees with what they need to function effectively, both in the office and at home.

At Naluri, we have always given our people the flexibility of choice, even before the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. Employees have the choice of working from where they do their best work, depending again on their role. For instance, customer service staff and the coaching team spend more time in the office, as their role demands, than marketing or communications personnel.

The option to work from home was long-standing, as long as employees have a stable Internet connection and a computer at their disposal. Yes, sometimes they need to go into the office to meet with clients, or colleagues for brainstorming sessions, however, we try to make the work environment and conditions as conducive as possible for our people.

To sum it up, as a CHRO, you can easily ensure successful hybrid working implementation in your organisation, as long as you put the right measures in place, with your employees’ best interests at heart. An environment where people are doing their best work makes for a happier, more productive organisation.

Written by:
Sharmila Ganapathy