Making the New Normal Work

By Dania Aziz

It’s more than just a combination of office-based and remote work. Experts from UOB Malaysia and Samsung Malaysia Electronics reveal how their organisations are adapting to the rapidly changing workplace environment.

The world of work is always evolving. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rise in remote working for most industries, making it a norm for some of us. But what happens now that the economy is reopening? Are employees required to return to the office full-time?

To clear the air, we checked in with UOB Malaysia and Samsung Malaysia on how they adapt to the change without compromising the safety and welfare of their employees. Their response? Hybrid work arrangement.

UOB Malaysia is giving the majority of its almost 5,000-strong workforce the choice to work remotely up to twice a week once COVID-19 restrictions are fully lifted. In addition to that, this prestigious bank offers Flexi-2, an initiative that gives employees an extra two hours off per month to attend to personal matters during the workday. Eligible employees have the opportunity to opt for flexible working hours, beginning their workday anytime between 7:30 am to 10:00 am based on their preferred work styles.

“Role-based assessment was carried out bankwide to determine how suitable each role is for remote working. As a financial institution, it is important that our working arrangement would not impact our customers’ experience negatively and to ensure customer’s data is protected at all costs,” explains Lai Tak Ming, Executive Director and Country Head of Human Resources of UOB Malaysia.

Samsung Malaysia Electronics has also adopted the hybrid work arrangement to ensure the health and safety of its employees are given the highest priority. “Our employees were able to increase productivity in some areas whilst working from home as they are able to save travelling time, spend less time on ad hoc meetings, and be more focused on completing their tasks,” says Pauline Ng, the Head of Human Resources & General Affairs at Samsung Malaysia.

To avoid the risk of infection between teams, this leading tech company has introduced a Split Operation working arrangement, a physical segregation of teams where employees are divided into four teams. One team would consist of senior management as well as those whose work functions are essential to the business, hence requiring them to be in office more frequently. As for the remaining three teams, they will work in the office on a rotation basis.

Preparation as a key to success

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented changes for all organisations. Maintaining real-time communication is the key to making a hybrid working arrangement setting work. The advancement of communication technology and team collaboration software has made it possible for both UOB and Samsung to ensure continuous communication while increasing flexibility.

At UOB, they have incorporated virtual collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Skype, including VPN that is available 24/7 to all its employees along with guidance and trainings. Microsoft 365 has also been deployed to all employees - allowing ease of scheduling, communications and collaboration.

Samsung Malaysia also uses the tools needed to conduct hybrid working arrangement such as the Knox platform which their employees use for various types of communication including emails, instant messaging, schedules and virtual meetings. According to Yeoh Zu Dian, Head of Learning and Development, they were fortunate to have the right technology and infrastructure that were already utilised by the company to cope with the changing work environments.

Trainings and briefings on how to utilise these communication tools should be given to employees to maximise the effectiveness. Samsung’s employees were briefed about the new remote working policies and protocols by HR with technical trainings from the IT Department on how to independently use devices and to access Samsung VPN services. They are also able to access a wide variety of Leadership & Technical training programmes via Samsung Online Learning Platform to prepare for the new normal of working.

UOB Malaysia too briefed its employees and shared across various communications such as infographics and guides on new policies and protocols to make a smooth transition to flexible working.

Closer together

To keep employees connected, UOB Malaysia introduced UOB Cares, a wellness programme that includes a series of educational talks, online training courses, and virtual activities such as webinars on developing mindfulness techniques, building mental resilience. The UOB Cares programme also provides employees with free access to private and confidential counselling sessions with professional psychologists alongside virtual workout classes, virtual escape rooms, and workshop for hobbies through its sports and wellness club.

According to Tuen Pooi Ling, UOB Malaysia's 2014 Management Associate, the right tools can help employees stay focused and productive while working from home. “UOB's holistic wellness initiatives keep me engaged, and healthy - physically and mentally, because it allows me to maintain regular interactions with colleagues which is essential in keeping me motivated while working from home.”

Samsung Malaysia’s Human Resources Department devised a variety of virtual activities, including their monthly e-Mamak Teh Tarik talk session, Life at Samsung MY social media challenges, and the President Steps Challenge to boost physical wellness among staff. They also hold Town Halls every quarter to ensure employees are aligned with the company's goals and objectives, on top of providing opportunity for employees to connect with top management. “Despite not working physically in the office, Samsung employees have the opportunity to engage in activities to boost morale and help everyone stay connected,” mentions Nurul Fatin Aqilah Ibrahim, Samsung Malaysia’s Management Associate.

Here to stay

In the opinion of Samsung Malaysia, the shift to a hybrid working arrangement is no longer a technical or operational challenge, but rather a cultural one. “It is important for us to reflect on the challenges of a hybrid working arrangement, especially on deciding the right key metrics to measure the performance of our employees when some activities were not able to be executed during MCO and lockdown periods,” states Pauline Ng.

Although the hybrid work arrangement does lessen the human interactions you would get in an office environment, Muhammad Zaid bin Mohd Radzi, UOB Malaysia's 2019 Management Associate, says instead of commuting for 1.5 hours daily, he can now spend the time on walks, reading, meditating, or preparing breakfast which subsequently help his mental state and allow him to be more productive during work hours.

The key aspect to making a hybrid working arrangement work is teamwork. The notion of teams enables each member to take ownership of their particular task, collaborate with others, and understand how their role contributes to the company's broader goal and simultaneously make they feel valued by the organisation.

Hybrid working arrangement can also allow us to attain the right balance between professional fulfilment and mental well-being by learning to respect working hours and remind ourselves to disconnect during personal time. Another way to capitalise on the hybrid work environment for career success is to stay focused on achieving objectives but to be open to alternative methods of reaching those objectives by accepting change, flourishing in the new normal, and taking calculated risks for the best results.

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