Covid-19 (16 June 2020)
Post Covid-19: Are We Ready for Our Workforce New Normal?
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With the implementation of Conditional Movement Control Order (“CMCO”) since 4th May 2020, Malaysians have observed reduced number of new covid-19 cases. It is likely that all economic sectors will be allowed to reopen completely if the number of new cases in the country can be maintained low until the end of CMCO on 9th June 2020. Till then, Malaysia will be gearing towards reopening its economy after more than 2 and a half months of economic ‘lockdown’.
Over the past few months, employers have been adjusting their workforces to accustom with the unprecedented situation. As we emerge from this virus outbreak, many may ponder if their workplaces will ever be the same again. The relaxation of movement control and the return to the workplace may lead to a variety of legal and human resources issues, which employers will need to be ready to respond to.
The reintegration of workforce composition post-CMCO
Adjusting to the new normal poses significant challenges as businesses would find that the virus outbreak has changed their business needs. Thus, re-composition of workforce (restructuring or redundancies) would be vital for business survival during post-CMCO period. Employers may need to reconsider the number of headcounts required. The employees’ skill sets will determine whether they should continue with the current role or to be transferred to other positions for business efficacy, if they survived a retrenchment exercise. The remuneration structure, i.e. adjustment of salary, bonus, profit-sharing and commission arrangements, within the company should also be reviewed to ensure that the company is economically viable to stay afloat.
Effects of Increased flexible/remote working arrangement
Many companies have implemented working from home policy as the government imposes movement control in the country since 18th March 2020. Some are already making arrangement to embrace working from home in a more permanent way and many employers may have acknowledged the benefits of working from home. Businesses will take time before a rebound and the projections of the country’s economic growth are expected to remain low after CMCO. Remote working arrangement reduces interaction between employees which in turn prevents the resurgence of the virus. The savings on office space, rental and utilities fees can be enormous. Companies may elect to keep employees working from home for economic reasons, which ultimately leads to adjustment of employees’ wages and benefits.
Employers may need to deal with increasing flexible working requests from employees with primary child-caring responsibilities as education sectors and schools may not be allowed to reopen too soon. Would employees be willing to receive lesser wages and benefits in return for a more remote and flexible working arrangement? Employees do spend lesser cost and time commuting to workplace and to many, they would finally be able to juggle work life balance.
The flip side is that, employees are likely to be less productive at home in the presence of so much external distractions and without being monitored physically. Perhaps, the trickiest aspect of remote working arrangement is how businesses engage with their clients and prospects. Employers will need to maintain regular communication with employees to provide motivation, supervision and reassurance to employees who will naturally have questions about the future of the business and their roles.
The Change and Effects on Businesses’ Cybersecurity Landscape
As companies move away from their physical offices, they will be increasingly reliant on remote access technology. Effective platforms to ease communication, connectivity and collaboration are essential to sustain business success. Any disruption caused by IT outages or cyber security attacks would have enormous effect on companies’ operations. Companies should also put emphasis on cybersecurity as remote working has created an ideal environment for cybercriminals or cyberattacks to thrive. Companies are expected to increase the number of IT personnel and budget to adapt to the evolving risks. As the existing working pattern may be sidestepped, employees will be required to work with technologies they are not familiar with, which in turn would result in heightened security risks.
Reskilling or upskilling workforce
This pandemic is setting up what could be lasting employment paradigm shifts which may trigger large-scale reskilling and upskilling of the workforce. It has changed people’s way of living and it is expected that consumers will now move even more quickly to e-commerce, virtual communication and social media. Digital marketing and communication will thrive and become the new normal. It is vital to expand employees’ ability to operate in a fully digital integrated environment and to adapt to rapidly changing conditions post Covid-19.
The ability to flatten the curve opens doors to a plethora of unknowns about the nation’s economic recovery. As all economic sectors are expected to re-open soon, people will gradually begin to return working in their offices. While returning to work after the movement control may be jarring, employers will need to make changes and adaptions to ease the transition. As employers work through the ongoing issues presented by the virus outbreak, flexibility and responsiveness to all issues regarding workplace configuration will be crucial.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”
Leonard Yeoh is a Partner and Pua Jun Wen is a Legal Associate with the legal firm, Tay & Partners.
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Pua Jun Wen