WFH: A Temporary Solution Or A New Age Practice?

23/10/2020 08:47 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.
By :
Adlene Aris

Malaysia is hit by the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only this time round, only Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, and Putrajaya are currently undergoing a stricter CMCO compared to other states/federal territories in Malaysia except for Sabah and Kedah.

Following this new directive, inter-state and inter-district travel is not permitted from 14 October until 27 October 2020. This also included the closure of the education sector which covers all higher learning institutions, schools, and kindergartens as well as nurseries.

However, the increasing number of cases per day has finally forced the National Security Council to instruct nearly one million private and public sector workers in the management and supervision categories in these red zones to work from home effective 22 October 2020.

This pandemic does not seem to be dying soon but is again claiming the innocent lives of those it affects - their jobs, and their lives literally.

Working culture: Western vs Asian countries

Countries like the Netherlands have long embraced working from their home office regularly with flexible working hours, and Finland isn’t far behind with this practice.

For the Dutch, values such as democracy and high involvement are deeply rooted in their working culture. Thus, employers place more trust in their employees compared to other nations in the world.

Meanwhile, Finland has been practising flexible working hours in its working culture for more than two decades and this is hugely attributed to the Working Hours Act that was passed in 1996. The Nordic nation is also catching up on working from home, not far behind the Netherlands. The Finns also come from a culture where they value trust and practice honesty, punctuality, and equality.

Another motivation for the change in the law is the wide availability of Wi-Fi and cloud-based technologies which make it possible for employees to work remotely in the same way as in a physical office. This also means employees can take more control of their schedules. This is however quite difficult to apply in essential services.

Meanwhile, in Asia, experts believe that we are not quite ready for work-from-home practices. The two common setbacks are the slow Internet connection and suspicious managers who do not trust their employees.

The latter is a mutual grumble among many employees from all over Asia, typically among the younger generations who have long anticipated flexible working hours and remote working, even before the pandemic happened.

The common Malaysian employee works for five days a week, nine hours a day, with a one-hour lunch break. It is frustrating for many workers because not only do they have to face long hours at the office, they too at times have to bear the long commute to work and back home. Typically, work-life balance is non-existent in Asian countries.

Generation gaps in the Malaysian working culture

Our long-held belief in long working hours equals high productivity and organisations’ trust issues towards employees are the two general reasons why flexible working hours and work from home are frowned upon in the working culture.

Experts from the Gen-X and millennial age group are putting the blame on top management in organisations that are mostly baby boomers for this “unhealthy” work culture. They are not forcing the idea of a 100% work-from-home practice or policy, but the notion of flexible schedules and remote working seems like an ideal arrangement for enhanced productivity, and a balanced work-life that would have positive impacts on employees’ physical and mental well-being.

Work-from-home should not be considered an option or temporary solution due to the pandemic, but a new age practice at the workplace.

We have the Gen Zs coming into the industry in a few more years to come. Remember, this is the generation that is currently going through online classes with never-ending online submissions and discussions with their lecturers and peers. Even their internships are done remotely from home during the pandemic.

Although I might not speak for all educators out there, I am impressed with the quality of work they produce albeit the teaching and learning process is done online. Hence, Gen X and millennials are responsible for this change, so that Gen Zs and the generations after that can appreciate a better work culture.


Adlene binti Aris is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Applied Communication, Multimedia University, Cyberjaya.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)