Like many employers and human resources (HR) experts, I too watched with bated breath as Malaysia tabled amendments to the Employment Act 1955 earlier this year.

While the new act spanned a wide range of changes, including revisions to weekly work hours and parental leave, the ‘highlight’ that caught the attention of many Malaysians — employers and employees alike — was the introduction of flexible working arrangements (FWA). This particular revision enables employees to formally request for flexibility in their working hours, days and locations, giving significantly more control over their work schedules.

HR personnel and solutions providers have been watching this scene very closely, especially as uneasy sentiments from employers ended up pushing the implementation date from September this year to 1January 2023. Some have cited struggles to find sustainable FWA frameworks, or potential difficulties managing the numerous work arrangements that would inevitably arise.

However, the most pressing question we have heard on the ground is a much simpler one: Will employee engagement and productivity take a hit due to FWA?

FWA’s impact on productivity: myth, matter, or misunderstanding?

By allowing employees to work from anywhere outside the office, FWA means that employers are no longer able to keep a close eye on their staff as they once were. Although remote and hybrid work cultures have become the norm over the past few years, it has also given rise to concerns — and understandably so — that the lack of interaction would cause office productivity to slide.

Contrary to this, though, global HR market research has shown that FWA conversely actually increases productivity!

While there is a greater likelihood for employees to be working slightly longer hours at home, they are also more likely to have better work-life balance and lead healthier lifestyles. I personally find that this is because the flexible nature of FWA lets workers regain a sense of control over their personal and professional boundaries.

Being in a familiar environment (like a couch or personal study) and not having to sit through long commutes have been some clear upsides to FWA. The importance of this cannot be understated — an arrangement that saves people time, money, and energy helps lower stress levels and conversely encourages them to give more at work.

That said, some employers might be keener on being more hands-on in their approach to ensuring productivity levels stay high. Plenty of small, incremental changes can be included in management styles to navigate engagement and productivity in hybrid or fully remote FWA structures.

Plying the path of productivity

The first thing that comes to mind when it comes to monitoring employee productivity (at least, during the early days of remote work) is time trackers and constant check-ins. However, managers run the risk of micro-managing when using these methods — which could alienate employees from wanting to collaborate more closely with their teams.

Personally, I believe productivity is a two-way street. Beyond keeping teams connected and expecting employees to deliver their best, companies must also help employees feel seen as individuals.

Take time to understand their needs and preferences outside of team settings: some may prefer text messages, while others are more comfortable with video calls. Employers who tailor their approach for individual outreaches can keep employees more confident, motivated, and engaged, even though screens.

Rather than expecting employees to navigate these work arrangements naturally, employers must also support workforces with the correct technology and tools. At the most foundational level, cloud suites and shared task boards ensure that everyone is able to access and co-work on the same files regardless of location. As productivity is a team effort, opportunities must be created for collaboration to keep communication channels constantly active.

Meanwhile, office productivity tools help managers rethink and implement new communication styles. It may sound cheesy for project information, workflows, and even key company initiatives or employee announcements to be shared via an internal network! However, in the era of remote work, receiving quality communications at comfortable intervals can help strengthen employee connectedness to the larger organisation.

To minimise the potential of communication slip-ups that can impact productivity, ground rules are also incredibly critical. This could range from small initiatives like setting virtual working hours and quick end-of-day message updates to keep all team members on the same page on the day’s work — all the way up to a team-wide or company-wide calendar where employees can clock in and record their remote days, such as WorkSmartly’s digital FWA dashboard.

Ultimately, balance is key: showing employees that the company values a split between ‘your own space’ versus ‘our shared goals’ will encourage the workforce to make the hours count, wherever they are across Malaysia.

This article is written by Victor Phang, CEO of WorkSmartly


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