With COVID-19, companies now have to engage in a paradigm shift in the way they think about work. Employers may have to contend with remote working being the norm rather than the exception. This presents both opportunities and challenges for employers and employees.
Opportunities in remote working
Remote working has its benefits and opportunities which employers should capitalise on:
- Increase in productivity. As employees are no longer required to report for work at the office, commute time is removed completely. Employees will theoretically have more time and energy to focus on performing tasks assigned to them.
- Improved morale. Cutting down on commute time means employees may also have more time to spend with their family or on their personal interests. These are activities which can improve employees’ overall wellbeing. An employee living a balanced life will be more motivated generally, and this could translate to productivity boosts at the office.
- Reduced costs. Remote work also means less reliance on having a physical place to work, meaning that employers can reduce costs as there is no longer a requirement to have a physical place to accommodate the same workers. In the long term, employers may increase their headcount without investing in, or spending on a proportionate increase in real estate.
- Tech adoption. Employers can also take advantage of remote working to evaluate whether they are tech ready. To be efficient, remote working may require the right infrastructure, software and systems to be in place. There are time and cost benefits to having processes and procedures automated and easily accessible, and this is a good opportunity as any for employers to see how they can harness technology for the good of the business.
Challenges in remote working
On the flipside, there are several challenges that employers may face in implementing a remote working arrangement. For example:
- The nature of some employees’ work may not be suitable for remote working. Some functions may require physical presence at the workplace due to the inherent characteristics of the job. For example, a production operator at a factory would not be able to carry out his functions at home. However, whether work is suitable to be carried out remotely is not always immediately apparent, and may still require a careful assessment and creativity to adapt to the new conditions. By looking for other ways to perform the work remotely, companies may as a result discover new methods to achieve the same (if not better) results, which allows the company to adapt continue to compete in the market.
- Abuse of remote working arrangement by employees. It is possible for employees to abuse such work arrangements due to the lack of face-to-face contact. For example, employees may be “absent from work” with no accountability as companies would not know whether the employee is working or not. The employee may also end up working at random/flexible hours which are not conducive to the employer’s business hours. There are many ways to overcome this and ensure accountability. For example, employers can restructure their management style and manner of measuring productivity. Adopting a results-oriented approach may be more suitable for remote working. So long as the employee completes their assignments on time and they are of an acceptable standard, some flexibility can be given to employees on how they manage their own time.
- Data protection and security. To work from home, devices containing confidential data would be kept in the private homes of employees, so the usual securities in place at the employer’s workplace are absent. Also, there is a risk that confidential information can be unintentionally disclosed by employees living in shared spaces. Employees may have family members or housemates working for competitors, who may overhear sensitive information during conference calls. Employers should take necessary precautions to safeguard their important information while employees work from home.
Remote working may be a new area for many companies to navigate, but with careful planning, the challenges and problems commonly associated with such work arrangement can be minimized. Having a comprehensive remote working policy which guides employees and employers on their obligations is therefore essential and should not be neglected. Does your company have an adequate remote working policy in place?
This article was written by Donovan Cheah (Partner) and Adryenne Lim (Senior Legal Executive). Donovan has been named as a recommended lawyer for Labour and Employment by the Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, and he has also been recognised by Chambers Asia Pacific and Asialaw Profiles for his employment law and industrial relations work.
Donovan & Ho is a law firm in Malaysia. Our practice areas include employment law, dispute resolution, tax advisory and corporate advisory. Have a question? Please contact us.