"Stay Healthy, Stay Safe” became a standard greeting when the COVID-19 pandemic first broke out in Malaysia and most of the world in early 2020. “Keep Our Jobs” is the other thing most of us whispered to ourselves as the lockdowns and economic downturn wore on those 2 years.
Fast forward to The New (Ab)normal, as I prefer to call it, when where Work From Home (WFH) and supporting digital infrastructure for remote working are basic things that knowledge workers now expect of their companies. Even as the economy opens up.
The pandemic has prompted people to re-examine our purpose and priorities. Career versus family. Success versus significance. Many of us are seeking more than just a pay cheque today. Besides good remuneration, meaningful work (42%) is the most important consideration according to the Randstad Workmonitor 2021 second edition survey.
This mindset shift plus the ‘Great Resignation’ phenomenon has also changed how companies operate and engage with their workforce. Here are some of the trends that will shape the future of work in the post-pandemic world:
Forget about ‘work-life balance’. Any semblance of balance got toppled during the pandemic when the lines between working hours and space with your personal ones became blurred. Say hello to ‘work-life integration’ instead, which is about blending professional and personal responsibilities.
As WFH remains a common practice, both employers and employees are coming to an understanding that work-life integration works both ways. Some roles involving cross-borders teams or client-servicing, will require employees to attend to work after-hours.
Hence, employers are likewise expected to be more understanding when their employees need to manage personal tasks intermittently during work hours. A working mum, for example, who has to take a short time-out from an online meeting to attend to her crying baby. Forward-thinking organisations now focus on productivity rather than how many hours their staff clock in.
“The world of the future is not the world of capitalism, it’s the world of ‘talentism’,” explained Professor Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman, regarding the global workforce. As globalization of the workforce becomes increasingly prevalent in Malaysia, human talent will become as vital as capital if not more so, to drive the economy.
And since remote working is now commonplace, whether your team members are based in New York, Mumbai, or Singapore is less important than whether your collective skill sets bring synergy to the project you are collaborating on.
For talent who are in demand, be it data analytics, accounting, marketing and so on, job opportunities and mobility are expanding far beyond the traditional radius of where they live. Chances are higher for one to accept a new and better job if the requirement is only to go in on some days even though the commute to the new company is longer.
Companies will need to be more savvy in how to keep its talents while attracting new ones in light of a more empowered workforce, with a good combination of appealing salary, perks, flexibility, and the personal touch.
Read more: The Future of Work is Hybrid
Meanwhile, the global workforce phenomenon is a double-edged sword, as more multi-national companies in Malaysia are outsourcing back-end roles like IT and finance in other countries with more affordable wages to contain operational costs.
Years ago, I worked in an organisation where a senior leader would monitor her email Inbox round the clock with a metaphorical ‘ping pong bat’ at ready. The expectation was that all client emails would be read or responded to within 15 minutes. Not only was this very stressful for the team but disruptive to ongoing work!
Today, with multiple communication platforms like emails, Microsoft Teams chat, Zoom and your 20+ work WhatsApp groups, how does one manage this barrage of communication while staying productive?
We need to be clear with what is urgent versus important.
As Stephen Covey the author of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” puts it aptly,
"What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important."
Here’s where asynchronous communication comes in. Asynchronous communication simply means any type or form of communication put out by a person via email or message or Google Doc and there is a time lag that allows the recipient to digest the information and reply.
Remote and hybrid working means we often have different schedules from our colleagues even when in the same office together. This being so, it seems only logical to rely on asynchronous communication for better focus and productivity.
Forward-thinking organisations have embraced asynchronous communication by mapping out project timelines clearly while allowing staff time to respond without fear of missing out on critical conversations. Thus, they can reply within a reasonable time frame without interrupting the flow of important work.
Four-day Work Week - The Future of Work (For real?!)
As companies vie for top talent, those that are not able to increase salaries may instead the dangle another carrot – a shorter work week. Very often, leisure time is commodity that money can’t buy and thus valued even more by employees.
Some bosses may be scratching their head here, asking “How do we get work finished with a 4-day work week?”
The 5-day work week which we are so accustomed to is an innovation started by Henry Ford, just slightly over a hundred years ago.
Ford introduced the assembly-line mass production system in car manufacturing in 1913, which increased productivity exponentially. Instead of the standard 6-day work week back then, Ford was able to pay above-average wages to workers while giving them an extra day off.
Today, proponents of the 4-day work week claim it will increase happiness and reduce stress among employees. But is it good for the company?
Microsoft Japan experimented this arrangement in August 2019 with its 2,300 personnel. The conclusion was, it led to more efficient meetings, happier employees and productivity improved by 40%!
So, when will a four-day work week happen in Malaysia? Not surprisingly, the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers recently stated that most Malaysian businesses, especially small and medium enterprises are not ready for this.
Still, no harm dreaming about a 3-day weekend. Other countries besides Japan have also begun experimenting with this, including the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Spain, Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, and New Zealand.
Meanwhile, a new California bill is proposing a four-day work week for larger companies.
Since we are living in the age of innovation and anything can happen in Malaysia, just keep on praying my dear fellow workers!
As the future of work continue to evolve in the COVID-19 endemic phase, let us remember “the only constant is change” as Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher highlighted.
Both organisations and employees should continue to communicate openly their expectations and adapt to changing needs which comes with new waves of disruption.
Having a collaborative win-win mindset will go a long way towards building better organisations where people are empowered, happier and more productive in long run.