Since Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced a Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO), businesses across almost all sectors have reopened to rebuild the country’s economy. That said, experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) believe that COVID-19 will become endemic and will remain prevalent the same way HIV is even after a vaccine is found. Therefore, even as Malaysians now enjoy less limiting movement regulations, we should be prepared to embrace a new normal in workplace culture. This includes normalizing flexible work hours, increased virtual processes, and remote working, among others.
According to a recent internal survey conducted by HealthMetrics, Malaysia’s leading employee wellness and benefits platform, more than 50% of companies were not prepared for flexible hours or working remotely when the Movement Control Order (MCO) began on 18th March. Today, 40% of these companies are still facing challenges and are unable to operate fully. With that, what can companies do to prepare their employees both mentally and physically to work optimally no matter the crisis in the future?
Accelerated Online and Cloud Processes for Wider Access and Flexibility During A Crisis
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we must always be prepared for the worst. As Malaysians slowly rebuild their businesses and ultimately the country’s economy, employers, and Human Resource (HR) teams rethink the way their companies are operating at the moment. Rather than attempt to return to pre-pandemic life the old normal, employers should work with HR teams to identify the areas which were affected at the height of the MCO period and which processes can be done remotely or on cloud platforms. More than that, companies should look to create new processes which will stand the test of a future pandemic and eliminate the ones which are now obsolete.
To do this, HealthMetrics advocates for adopting digital and automation technologies which will not only increase efficiency but also save cost and increase team productivity as they navigate working from home. The first step is to begin with an essential communications tool like Microsoft Teams before automating more processes with more advanced software like Zendesk for Customer Service Management. HealthMetrics has already adopted the digital tools mentioned here and attributed its flexible working culture. As such, transitioning into a fully remote environment was a smooth process for them.
As there are many Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and productivity tools currently in the market, it is important to identify the software which is most suitable for each company’s unique workforce. To achieve this, HR teams and employers have a responsibility to be mindful of their employees’ needs, strengths, and weaknesses so that these tools are used optimally when remote working protocols are implemented.
Get Used to Flexible Hours, Remote Working and Forced Trust During a Pandemic
When the MCO was enforced, companies were forced to work remotely and employees were isolated from each other, relying entirely on the internet to maintain communications. Despite being familiar with the internet, many were new to out-of-office working and employers had to become creative in finding ways to empower employees to work remotely while maintaining productivity from afar. In this case, out of sight does not mean out of mind. However, it is without a doubt that working remotely presents challenges. Reduced employer oversight and potential internet disruptions are only some of them.
According to HealthMetrics, employers have a responsibility to create informative and straightforward guidelines on how they would like their employees to make daily check-ins and reports. This will encourage trust and a higher level of engagement between employer and employee, thus enabling open-mindedness for each to address concerns and challenges. For example, many professionals in the workforce are also parents, caretakers and children of elderly parents. Working from home during a pandemic like COVID-19 means that their time is divided between their professional responsibilities and caring for their children and loved ones who are ill. Those living alone might struggle with loneliness, depression, and isolation. Appropriate action falls upon employees are well taken care of even in the midst of adjusting to new working conditions.
Before the MCO began, HealthMetrics conducted an internal work from home trial with some of its team members and the exercise gave the company time to experience the physical and mental conditions of working from home. This allowed them to address initial challenges and make improvements to their guidelines for real-life implementation during the MCO.
The HealthMetrics team found that by connecting the entire organization through a selected platform (in this case, Microsoft Teams), company-wide updates were channeled to each member systematically. Departmental goals were also communicated to teams every week and conference calls were scheduled consistently to ensure that every member was aligned.
Moreover, members used Forms and ChatBots to automate daily tasks such as individual updates and request submissions. To ensure ongoing company-wide engagement, HealthMetrics’ HR teams organise monthly informal lunchtime conference calls and online games to gather all employees in a virtual setting.
Healthwise, employees at HealthMetrics have access to cashless avenues where they can seek telemedical treatment or at any of the company’s listed healthcare partners nationwide.
As each organization’s culture is unique, HealthMetrics recommends employers should continuously engage their employees to design the most suitable remote working framework as they acclimatize to increased implementation of online processes.
Adapting to the Loss of Human Touch and How It Affects Productivity
The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has prohibited face-to-face interactions has been a concern. According to an article by SAP and Microsoft, a prolonged lack of in-person exchanges with peers and colleagues due to isolation can lower productivity and engagement levels while decreasing employee motivation. Coupled with the stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19, this can lead to a variety of mental health issues.
To prevent this, HealthMetrics advocates for increased communication on various platforms for employers to connect with their teams, discussing not just work-related issues but also social and emotional challenges. For daily communications, employers can consider using staples such as Whatsapp and Telegram to have multiple conversations with their employees. For larger scale communications involving multiple departments, employers should consider utilising Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Hangouts as these platforms are more practical for exchanging information with proper segmentation.
To ensure a balance in working remotely, the HealthMetrics team encourages companies to host virtual social gatherings for its employees to take a break from work and connect with one another on a peer-to-peer level instead. Furthermore, a company-wide care package delivery would also help to boost morale and communicate a sense of support and camaraderie among teams. These practices are especially beneficial for employees living alone as it can help combat social anxiety and isolation blues.
Ultimately, Malaysians are facing a period of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, better known as VUCA. Companies should be made aware that it is necessary to learn and adapt from lessons of COVID-19. To stay relevant, businesses must adopt a fluid, ever-evolving business model but also flexible workplace processes. According to HealthMetrics, though businesses are gradually reopening, Malaysians must be prepared to embrace the impact from this period including a drastic economic downturn.