Talent: The future of remote work: Opportunities and challenges for employers and tech talent

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January 23, 2023 - January 29, 2023.
Talent: The future of remote work: Opportunities and challenges for employers and tech talent
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Covid-19 has been a fierce accelerant for remote work adoption in Southeast Asia. Many employers we work with have embraced the concept of hiring remote workers in pursuit of the most sought-after talent — to really help them scale or digitally transform.

At the same time, the most sought-after talent in tech — software engineers and product managers — are demanding at the very minimum, flexible work environments. This often means some level of remote work available to them. In addition, Malaysia’s recent introduction of its new remote work visa will only further the country’s overall attractiveness to remote workers. With all this in motion, what does the future of remote work look like?

One thing is for certain, the future of remote work looks bright and will offer more opportunities for both employers and talents. For employers, providing a hybrid or fully remote option to employees can attract strong talent to their organisation. In addition, base salary is still the main consideration for highly skilled talent — employers should also ensure that their checklist includes additional upskilling and wellness benefits such as annual leave, medical, and self-development opportunities.

According to Glints data, more than 70% of the job roles our clients are recruiting are for remote or hybrid work options. We have seen a strong uptick in IT, financial services, marketing, advertising and logistics industries making these hires. Given the current tech talent shortage, employers are being creative and flexible, looking for ways to tap a wider and larger talent pool. Interestingly, for non-tech roles that we recruit, we see employers diving into cross-border hiring, particularly if they are looking to expand regionally and internationally, to save costs. For non-tech, these roles tend to be within business development, marketing and operations.

Interestingly, when it comes to talent, there are small shifts in what appeals to them, driven by a maturing market and the growth of talent moving into the tech industry. The appeal of working with global diverse teams has also come up in checklists for strong tech talent when looking for an ideal role to support their own learning and development. Also increasingly, more tech talent is proactively looking for transparency on company growth and technology roadmaps versus just career progression — for example, are employers using trending programming languages like GoLang? Finally, it goes without saying, emphasising company culture and mission is critical to attracting and retaining talent.

The demand for remote work from sought-after talent has exploded in the last couple of years — and employers are paying attention. According to our data, the overall demand for remote workers in Malaysia increased by more than 200%, with the top three most sought-after roles being software engineers, UI/UX designers and product managers.

Another phenomenon we are seeing is the growth of employers looking outside Malaysia for talent or what we call cross-border remote hiring. The benefit is that there is now a limitless pool of talent to choose from, particularly for companies that seek greater diversity and inclusion.

One of our clients, an e-payment platform in Malaysia, built a tech hub in Vietnam to support its growing business and to utilise the tech talent in the market. Within six months, they hired more than 16 people to support tech and business development in the region. The employer saw immediate results in the overall increased level of productivity and contribution to the main business.

However, it is pertinent to also note that remote hiring comes with its own set of challenges that employers should prepare for. One of the common challenges, particularly with cross-border remote hires, is assimilating to a new company culture while being remote. Different working styles can be a key issue when it comes to managing a remote workforce, especially in a cross-border setting. For example, workers who prefer hierarchical structures compared with flat structures are likely to find comfort in progression and promotion opportunities.

Another challenge that can hinder productivity even with remote hires locally is the lack of engagement between teams. With a physical distance separating headquarters and remote teams, it becomes increasingly important to ensure a proper engagement process is set up with remote teams. This includes checking in regularly and having meaningful conversations that create a sense of belonging. Collaborative tools such as Slack, Google Workspace and Zoom help close some of the gaps. However, with borders also opening up, it is pertinent that there is also some facetime as well.

As we look forward, we can anticipate that certain trends will continue, including sought-after talent will increasingly demand flexible working environments. We do not see signs of this slowing down, particularly with tech talent. With Malaysia’s GDP expected to grow 3% to 4% this year, we do not see business momentum slowing down. Malaysia and the Southeast Asian economies are likely to keep growing and become more integrated, which will continue to be a key driver in companies looking to hire remotely.

Puay Lim Yeo is the managing director of Glints, an online job recruitment platform and talent ecosystem in Southeast Asia