Career Guide

Flexibility at work: Implement working arrangements that bring the best out of people, leaders say

TalentCorp is an advocate of flexible working arrangements and strongly believes that corporate Malaysia can do a lot more towards greater flexibility in work policies and practices, says Johan Merican. TalentCorp is an advocate of flexible working arrangements and strongly believes that corporate Malaysia can do a lot more towards greater flexibility in work policies and practices, says Johan Merican.

Harvinder Singh; CEO of PSI In-Control Bhd

When looking at knowledge workers, it is very difficult to generalise a workplace rule across the board. Iím in total agreement that management staff cannot be working from home as physical presence, hallway discussions are a critical ďah haaĒ type innovations. There is a tremendous benefit in all being co-located and the teamís energy will always be higher than that of individuals.

However, for a programmer who is coding a device or writing a firmware, his physical presence is not really going to add value to strategy or high level decision making. As such, the decision on working from home is really position and job-centric.

Pauline Ho; Assurance Leader, PwC

There isnít one right answer to managing work practice because what works for one company may not work for another. Yahoo! may have its own reasons for revising its policy on telecommuting. But, its blanket ban on working outside the office doesnít work for PwC because the nature of our work as a professional services firm is dynamic and diverse; and so are the people who make up our workforce.

At PwC, we believe in empowering our people and giving them the tools to help them succeed in their jobs. This includes:

ē FlexSpace, where our people can choose where to work from as long as they remain connected and contactable, and

ē Flexible working arrangements or FWA where our people can choose to work two-and-a-half to four days a week. In fact, face-to-face engagement may not be critical for certain roles which are very specific and defined such as invoice processing or manning the consultation helpline. In this case, if an employee needs to care for his/her elderly parents and feels he/she can perform better if he/she works some of the time from home, we donít see this as an issue, as long as the employee demonstrates a strong sense of responsibility and ability to work independently with minimal supervision.

Trust is a critical element to the success of PwCís FlexSpace and FWA initiatives. Teams need to have a good support system and a common understanding of the concept of accountability. They need to agree on how it impacts the overall work flow when a team member opts for either arrangement. At the same time, we are mindful that first and foremost, we are in client service and hence service levels must not drop. This means that face time with clients canít be compromised. When everyone is on the same page, this can boost productivity, performance and employee morale, leading to a more engaged workforce.

Itís important to make the distinction that flexible working arrangements arenít a HR practice that caters exclusively for women. This is an issue that cuts across the board, and such flexibility benefits both male and female employees. The Gen Y, in particular, are willing to work hard but they also expect the flexibility to get work done outside the office (in PwC Malaysiaís Millennials at Work survey, 22% think they will work in a virtual place where employees log in from any location). So this is about catering to the changing needs of the workforce.

The ideal situation for me is one where my team members are being the most productive they can be. So if allowing them some flexibility brings out the best in them, thatís what Iíd advocate.

Johan Merican; CEO of TalentCorp

TalentCorp is an advocate of flexible working arrangements and strongly believes that corporate Malaysia can do a lot more towards greater flexibility in work policies and practices, including flexibility in work hours and place of work. We believe that this will actually help attract and retain talent in the Malaysian workforce, in addition to contributing towards better performance.

The recently released Retaining Women in the Workforce report by ACCA and TalentCorp highlighted that women left the workforce due to challenges faced in managing work life balance and due to family obligations. The report highlights the role that flexible working arrangements can play in facilitating more women to remain in the workforce. This is consistent with the World Bankís Malaysian Economic Monitor November 2012, ĎUnlocking Womenís Potentialí, which highlights the low female labour participation rate in Malaysia relative to other countries. According to World Bank, if Malaysia is able to achieve comparable labour participation rates to neighbouring countries, that will potentially add over a million more women into the workforce.

Beyond the numbers, a happy mother makes for a happy employee. To the extent flexible working arrangements helps a working mother better manage her family obligations, it will facilitate her to better focus on her work responsibilities. Further, I feel that potentially the productivity and performance gains would not be limited just to women but will also accrue to all talent. There is no doubt of the need for face to face meetings, but this doesnít translate to being in the office 100% of the time, as meetings can be scheduled. I know of many working mothers who busily send emails late in the night after their kids go to sleep - definitely no sacrifice to speed nor quality.

Whilst there are many roles in many Malaysian organisations that can implement flexible working arrangements, there are circumstances where it cannot. For example, a fireman has to be physically there at the fire station on standby during a specific time. In this respect, the situation at Yahoo! is one of a business turnaround and thus, this may be a circumstance requiring greater face-to-face time to ensure better coordination and cohesion in executing the turnaround plans. Further, the culture of flexible working arrangements in California is far more liberal than what we typically have in Malaysia. Hence, even with the most recent tightening up of practices in Yahoo!, it may still be more flexible than what is prevalent in Malaysian corporates.

Notwithstanding Yahoo!, we in Malaysia can still do with more flexibility in work arrangements.