Entrepreneur

4 M'sian Bosses From Different Industries Explain Exactly Why We Can’t Have Permanent WFH Yet

In light of the pandemic, some companies have really taken notice of the advantages of WFH for both employers and employees.

In Malaysia, fund management company Permodalan Malaysia Berhad (PNB) in Malaysia already announced back in May that it will be implementing WFH permanently.

However, it’s safe to assume that permanent WFH policies will not be easily implemented across all companies regardless of industries.

But what exactly stands in the way of that? We asked a few entrepreneurs for some insight into what’s holding them back from making it a reality.

1. Christy Ng, Founder of ChristyNg.com

ChristyNg.com is an online shoe store that specialises in women’s fashion footwear ranging from high heels, wedding shoes, and custom-made shoes.

Christy’s business involves e-commerce/retail and manufacturing, so permanent WFH across all departments will be challenging to implement.

“For instance, my retail stores need to be manned regardless 7 days a week. Our e-commerce orders need to be physically picked, QC-ed, packed and shipped. These types of tasks require physical presence and are time sensitive,” she told Vulcan Post.

Until I close down all my physical retail stores at shopping malls and outsource my entire warehouse fulfilment to third-party logistics, WFH is only a sexy idea which will never be a reality for me and people in my industry.

Christy Ng, ChristyNg.com

On the footwear manufacturing side, she can only see WFH being possible if the entire factory workforce is replaced with robots too.

Realistically, only certain teams like those in design and marketing will be able to benefit from WFH arrangements, as their physical presence is minimally required, if at all.

However, those aren’t the only reasons why she doesn’t see permanent WFH being viable for her entire workforce. During the MCO WFH period, Christy had both positive and negative experiences.

“I realised my marketing, operations and customer service teams work more productively with the additional flexibility given, churning out better quality work and getting 30% more work done,” she told Vulcan Post.

On the flip side, she also had employees who refused to respond to work related emails or phone calls, even during working hours, with some not responding at all since March 18.

Therefore, she believes that WFH should only be extended to selected employees who have the maturity and responsibility to work with minimal supervision.

“WFH can be extended to the top performers within the company but not those who constantly underperform. In short, WFH is only suitable for disciplined top achievers within the organisation,” Christy concluded.

2. Rachael Lum, Co-founder of LokaLocal

LokaLocal is a platform that connects travellers to local experts for tours and activities that help them discover Malaysia’s culture and heritage.

Co-founders Chin Yoon Khen and Rachael Lum / Image Credit: LokaLocal

Being a traveltech platform, Rachael shared that LokaLocal was able to adapt to WFH easily during the MCO. However, when it comes to implementing permanent WFH, even traveltech platforms will face challenges.

“To a certain degree, creating travel and lifestyle content depends on us being able to go out for filming. Capturing stories of the places, food and people in Malaysia is hard to do entirely from home,” Rachael said.

“We will soon be offering virtual reality services for hotels, restaurants and other industries, and we would need to be out of the office to do so,” she added.

Meanwhile, some online travel agencies, tour and activity providers as well as ground transportation services would also find it near-impossible to have permanent WFH across all departments.

“Regulations for licensed travel agencies are strict. Customers also like purchasing travel packages face-to-face, and may feel comfortable handling them in an office setting,” Rachael said.

For her travel industry peers, she shared that bi-weekly WFH arrangements may be the best compromise for now.

3. Tan Yong Meng, Co-founder of BuildEasy

BuildEasy is an online design and build solution meant to make the home interior design process easier.

At BuildEasy, Yong Meng shared that not every role in the company was able to WFH, with the sales and operations team as an example.

“What we did with this group was to encourage them to study some online courses for self-improvement and also to work on some of our initiatives that we would normally push to the back burner in a typical work period,” he said.

Image Credit: BuildEasy

“In our industries, namely property marketing and sales, and interior design and renovation, a complete WFH policy will not work for us.”

Property sales still require personal touches from sales consultants as purchasing property involves a large sum of capital, and buyers will require a high level of trust in order to commit to any purchase.

“As we cater to mainly foreigners who wish to invest in Malaysia and Vietnam, the online Zoom approach serves as a starting point for us but in our O2O (online to offline model), a physical meeting is paramount to closing any deal,” Yong Meng gave an example.

The project management of their interior design and renovation services will also require on-site execution.

Property developers are debating whether or not the industry as a whole can move towards facilitating property purchases online, but a mixed approach would work best for now.

“As much as we want to move everything online, there will always be a limit to certain industries on what they can do,” Yong Meng said.

Nonetheless, BuildEasy themselves have been doing research and plan to introduce a new platform to see if this new normal will be here to stay.

4. Sean Teoh, Founder of MOPress

MOPress is an AI digital publishing platform that connects content creators and digital publishers online.

Image Credit: MOPress

During the MCO, Sean shared that some of MOPress’ departments performed great, and they were able to implement lots of new monitoring and performance systems.

However, when it comes to the overall publishing industry, Sean believes that permanent WFH will first require a solid communication system in place.

“There are plenty of tools in our industry that we can use to automate and track, we just need to accept the facts that we need to figure out ways to work smart rather than work hard with the help of technology, analytical tools, and AI,” he said.

However, he admitted that he’s the type of entrepreneur who still prefers to have face to face sessions with all his team members.

So it’s not so much that permanent WFH for this industry is held back by current technology, but moreso by the company culture itself, where employers and employees might still find in-person meetups more efficient.

Therefore, the publishing industry certainly has the choice of being able to permanently WFH, it will just be up to individual companies to implement it or not.

For MOPress, Sean shared that they still haven’t come to a decision on this yet, but that the team will be monitoring the next few months for consideration.

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From the answers we gathered, it seemed that it wasn’t just current technology that poses a problem to permanent WFH across different industries.

Attitudes of employees and employer mindsets also affect whether or not such a policy is worth implementing, though of course, these decisions will differ from company to company.

Companies that are already largely tech based will have little to no problem transitioning to permanent WFH in theory, while those that aren’t may only be able to implement the policy for certain departments.

What I’m curious to see is whether or not the companies who implemented permanent WFH would ever retract the policy once the pandemic is over.

It may work well in the context of COVID-19, but once that’s over, behaviours may change once again and we may see more cons to WFH. No one can say for sure what will happen at this point in time.

  • You can read more COVID-19 related articles here.

Featured Image Credit: LokaLocal / MOPress/ ChristyNg.com / BuildEasy

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