Remote Working vs Flexible Working: Where do we draw the line?

By Ahmed Wafi

Prior to the pandemic, many workplaces started introducing the idea of flexible working to promote a healthier work-life balance. Instead of your traditional 9-to-5, employees can clock in and out of work at their desired time, provided that they complete their mandatory eight-hour rotation.

According to Sophia Ang, Head of Talent Attraction and Workplace Futurisation at Maybank, flexible working is about “empowering employees with the option to choose what time they begin and stop work and work place venues.”

Maybank has been practising a flexible work arrangement policy since 2013 with the goal of helping their people achieve work-life integration without compromising performance and quality of work. These are among the initiatives that make Maybank Malaysia’s Most Preferred Employer.

Then there’s remote working, also known as the WFH arrangement that allows you to get your work done wherever you may be. This setting, however, has posed a number of challenges, mainly being disconnected from their respective teams.

Tricia Lim from Maxis’ Head of Organisational Development, Culture and Employee Experience shed light on the issue, defining it as “a working arrangement or style that allows employees or professionals to work outside of a traditional nine-to-five office environment. Remote working brings advantages to an organisation from a cost-savings standpoint as it allows it to operate in a non-traditional setting resulting in less ‘brick and mortar’-related expenses,” she says.

We learn more about these two modern work arrangements through our seasoned professionals.


Sophia: As we work towards building a hybrid workforce beyond COVID-19, employees will be working remotely from home or alternate sites on some or most days of the week. It will never be truly remote as employees will still come to the office for important meetings or check-ins. With this arrangement, remote workers will have less commuting time from reduced travelling to the office, and also avoid crowded offices and heavy traffic as they can contribute from home – which helps support employees’ mental and physical health. For employees with children, remote working provides a great opportunity to look after them without compromising their work.

As for flexible working, the biggest advantage is that employees get the freedom to decide when they work so they can give enough time for other aspects of their life. With flexible work schedules, employees can meet their family needs, personal obligations, and life responsibilities conveniently.

Both flexible and remote working supports a variety of sustainability goals including supporting economic growth, reduced inequalities, climate change and sustainable cities. As Sustainability takes the centre stage of our M25 Plan, we are committed to ensure that our employees are Living Sustainably.

Tricia: Apart from the cost saving that comes with remote working, in an increasingly digital era and especially in the pandemic situation, Malaysians have been able to leverage technology to enable them to work remotely while maintaining collaboration and productivity with the team.

Being a technology company with a truly digital mindset, the transition into working from home for Maxis’ employees at the onset of the Movement Control Order (MCO) was a smooth one. Employees are equipped with the right collaboration tools to enable them to WFH as their safety and well-being continues to be our top priority.

Sophia: A key learning point that we noticed ever since we rolled out our permanent work from home arrangement is that remote working is not for everyone. We welcome the fact that people are motivated in different ways and in different settings – and this is clearly aligned to our Diversity, Equity & Inclusivity (DEI) principles in ensuring equal gender participation and no discrimination.

Tricia: The main disadvantage to remote and flexible working is that it may pose certain risks of employees feeling disconnected from the wider team due to less physical or face-to-face interaction or engagement. By providing the option of flexible working hours, there needs to be a level of trust and accountability between both parties.

Tricia: Organisations from most industries at some point in the near future, if not sooner, will need to be agile and open to the idea of adopting various combinations of working arrangements for a variety of applicable roles to suit relevant professionals if they want to appeal to the future workforce. The global pandemic is a clear example and for some organisations, it has accelerated the need to pivot towards this direction, as well as increasing digital adoption across all functions, so that they can be future-ready and thrive in the new normal.

Sophia: For us at Maybank, we introduced our permanent work-from-home policy, Mobile Work Arrangement. As of now we have onboarded about 3,700 employees on this work arrangement. With more employees going into remote work arrangements, the future of work will see organisations looking into having alternate sites as a co-working space for their employees. The traditional workplace will be remodelled and becomes a centre for collaboration and co-working spaces. These alternate sites may have collaborative meeting spaces where remote employees can use whenever they come in for in-person meetings and collaboration for specific days of the week. For hybrid workforce, employees may come into these alternate sites for some days and work from home for the rest of the week.

As we move towards the next normal, de-centralised global workforces will be a trend. The workforce will truly be global and distributed where it is no longer bound by specific office locations. Employers will have the opportunity to access diverse talent pools from across the globe without being tied to a physical workplace. Additionally, skills will become the new currency and reshape the employment economy. One person may be tied to various roles given how distributed the whole workforce model will be.

Sophia: Taking breaks while working remotely is essential to boost productivity. One way to take a break is by pausing screen-time. Screen-free breaks can help us refocus mentally and allow our eyes to rest. Consider a walk around our living room, calling a friend for a quick check-in conversation or simply having a meal or snack.

At Maybank, to ensure that our employees stay engaged and connected despite everyone logging in from different locations, we designed a series of thematic ‘Happy Zoom’ sessions which include games, music jam and virtual celebrations. These sessions act as a platform where our employees engage in non-work-related conversations that mirror the usual lobby conversations we normally have in the office. The Bank has always ensured that the thoughts, feelings and needs of Maybankers are considered, alongside the operational and financial requirements of the organisation, aligned with our focus on the five main areas of fitness – the emotional, mental, financial, performance and physical. Part of our #HumanisingWorkplace well-being boosters, we encourage Maybankers to keep their Fridays digital-meeting-free. We also provide holistic support for employees who need any assistance whilst working from home – including mental health talks and opportunity to engage with trained in-house Mental Health First Aiders to assist employees who are struggling emotionally and mentally. Maybankers have their flexibility to self- declare ONE-day medical leave without providing a medical certificate so they can take rest when unwell.

For employees with children, we have also introduced our Tiger Cub Virtual Camp with a suite of programmes hosted by our Childcare Centre! Additionally, we also introduced our Group Human Capital Staff Emergency Support (GHC SES) as a single point of enablement and support contact for all employees, in relation to COVID-19.

Tricia: Companies can organise fun and creative ways to connect with employees virtually to remain engaged with the team. Support for employees during this period is vital, so we have virtualised some channels such as Maxis’ weekly MoveIt! Sessions, with Zumba and Yoga being conducted online. Another of our initiatives is called Maxis POSITIVE, a programme that combines personalised, multi-disciplinary coaching and science-backed digital tools to help employees to develop healthy mental and physical health practices.

Employees must also be disciplined to take short breaks at regular intervals to avoid digital fatigue. Ensure to switch off after office hours to allow your mind to unwind and recharge before the new workday begins.

Tricia: Internet connectivity and being equipped with the right digital solutions are critical to ensure employees can work more collaboratively and productively from home! Having a workspace that is conducive to working with minimal interruption allows better focus to achieve a productive workday at home. Setting up an ergonomically friendly work environment is important to ensure your physical health is not compromised.

Sophia: I believe it is essential to stick to routine/setting a schedule while you are working from home. At the start, it will be a trial and error as you find a schedule that best suits your virtual meetings and work priorities throughout the day.

While working remotely, it is also imperative to put trust in the team and focus on outcomes. This will create a more flexible and agile remote team, which will help boost productivity. Employees’ well-being remains a priority even while remote working, without compromising on the service and value that we deliver.

While on remote working, our mode of communication will be virtual collaboration tools such as Zoom. For remote teams working on a specific project, they may explore the various team collaboration websites such as Trello, which would tremendously help in documenting their project progress and important presentations

Sophia: For us at Maybank, our permanent work-from-home arrangement, Mobile Work, will be the future of work as it complements other official arrangements. This hybrid way of working will provide a diverse opportunity and a means for business continuity for the modern workforce consisting of remote and on-site employees.

We acknowledge that not all employees adapt well to remote working as some may require a more structured setting. To ensure that we are diverse and inclusive, a hybrid workforce will work best in catering to our employees, customers and communities. The future of the Maybank office will then see a blended arrangement of employees working from home, in the office and from alternate sites.

Tricia: There have been conversations surrounding this possibility in many organisations post-pandemic, and there have been mixed views. We think that remote working will always be part of the equation due to increasing digitalisation and advancements in mobile technology, and we see it being accepted as a more common approach for selective roles within any organisation across all industries.

After better understanding the two work arrangements, it’s clear that as we move into the next normal, the future of work looks to be a hybrid working arrangement where it will be a combination of working remotely while also utilising the office for any important meetings and calls.

You can learn more about the views leading Malaysian employers have in this exclusive webinar held at GRADUAN Aspire 2021.

Sophia also states that “When done right, both remote and flexible working allow employees and organisations to focus on performance. Employees are found to have increased productivity as they get fewer interruptions and more time for ‘deep thinking’ to take place. Both arrangements also support a variety of sustainability initiatives including economic growth, reduced inequalities, climate change and sustainable cities.”

“Flexible working arrangements provide a more-balanced approach in terms of managing the expectations and needs from both the employer and employee’s perspectives to make this working style the preferred choice between the two, especially with younger professionals,” Tricia adds.

It’s clear that different talent work differently. While some prefer the office life that once was before COVID came about, others prefer working from the comfort of their homes. While a middle ground of a hybrid working culture seems to be the best solution, we want to hear your thoughts! Tweet us @graduan and have your ideas heard!

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