WFH: Covid-19 forcing a permanent shift in work arrangements

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 30, 2020 - December 06, 2020.
WFH: Covid-19 forcing a permanent shift in work arrangements
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The work-from-home (WFH) movement that has become ubiquitous over the last year is here to stay. Even as news of effective Covid-19 vaccines gather steam, Malaysian businesses will continue to provide the option in some form to their employees, according to a regional survey conducted in September by Poly, the multinational that develops enterprise-grade communications hardware and software.

Over time, the WFH movement will give rise to what its Asean and Korea managing director Samir Sayed refers to as the hybrid working model. “While we will definitely see a continuity in WFH, it will not be a single, all-encompassing work practice. It will eventually give rise to a combination of onsite and offsite work arrangements,” he tells Digital Edge in an interview.

“The Ecosystem Digital Priorities in the New Normal” study, which surveyed business leaders across the region, found that Malaysian business leaders tend to favour a long-term move to the hybrid work model.

While 55% of all respondents expect increased use of digital technologies for their employees, that number rises to 58.3% for Malaysian respondents. Forty per cent of all respondents, meanwhile, expect employees to use virtual meetings, going forward, compared with 41.3% of Malaysian respondents.

A complementary whitepaper by Poly suggested that the hybrid work model will see mid-sized, as well as large and well-established businesses reducing their spending on commercial office space.

Interestingly enough, this sentiment was overrepresented among Malaysian respondents, relative to the broader Asean region. While just 15% of businesses in the region expect reduced use of commercial space, the number jumps to 33% for Malaysian businesses.

As businesses move to reduce their physical office space, workplaces will gradually be fitted out to reflect the changing demands on meeting and collaborating with colleagues.

These findings, according to Samir, will eventually give rise to a number of long-term trends that will see the gradual decentralisation of the traditional work model. These include an increase in video engagement, contactless meeting rooms, remote working with seamless workflow between home and office, home offices built into residential spaces and the prevalence of cloud-based technologies.

A major priority for businesses will be to ensure that their employees are effective in their new remote working realities. This is also the case for Malaysia, with 46.2% of respondents citing the implementation of remote working capabilities as a key IT measure, followed closely by a re-evaluation of cybersecurity risks and measures (44.6%).

Cybersecurity preparedness has been key to facilitating remote working. As more remote devices connect to a business’ networks, businesses need to have full visibility of all the devices that access their servers.

To this end, virtual private networks (VPNs) were cited as a leading measure to enable secure and private remote working arrangements. VPN refers to software that masks a user’s IP address, such that the user’s online actions become nearly untraceable. It does so by establishing secure and encrypted connections that provide improved privacy.

VPNs provide an additional layer of security for a private internet connection. In some instances, employees had access to confidential files, customer data and multiple internal systems from an office server. Securing access to these key points became critical, as more and more employees started accessing them from outside the office.

In addition to these more advanced investments in security, many businesses also had to make basic investments in laptops and collaborative software over the last year to support remote working efforts.

With the move to a hybrid work arrangement, however, Samir warns that businesses and employers alike need to draw strict virtual lines between work and home.

As a general rule, he advises businesses to focus on outcomes delivered, as opposed to hours spent.