Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses and have sent economies of the world into a downward spiral. The people, businesses and corporations in Malaysia too have faced countless challenges in this difficult period. The government’s vaccination roll-out and reduced number of cases in the country over the past year allowed for the relaxation of standard operating procedures (SOPs), lifted the nationwide lockdown (or rather the movement control order (MCO) restrictions) and enabled businesses to resume operations in the new normal. Matthew Barsing who was recently appointed as the Chief Commercial Officer of the award-winning recruitment and outsourcing agency, EPS Consultants in Malaysia, shares his overview and outlook on the past year and insights on productivity-related trends businesses can anticipate for 2022.
According to Matthew, the past two years since the first lockdown in March 2020 has indeed been a difficult time, “What we’ve seen is at the beginning of COVID-19, there was a lot of unrest and a lot of scurrying around trying to work out how to have a continuity plan for companies because companies were suddenly in a situation where they were forced to have employees working remotely, working from home; so, there was a lot of noise in the market about technology and platforms.”
Matthew pointed out that a big issue was for companies to ascertain the best way to continue their businesses, to manage projects remotely as well as to manage the productivity of their employees.
During the earlier stages of the pandemic, employee productivity was placed in the spotlight more than ever before as many companies had to continue to operate in a leaner team structure in order to survive and to achieve a balance between expenses, profits and losses.
Matthew commented, “The ones who have been productive have been able to keep their jobs. Recently, a public listed company in the US laid off 9,000 employees and the justification for them was that over the last 18 months, the company has been monitoring performance and the people who have not been performing (working from home) are unfortunately let go from their companies. So that was a huge signal to the labour market that things are going to change.
“One thing that we are seeing now is a lot of companies in Malaysia are now asking their staff to come back to the office. But I think, as a trend, working from home is not going away and I think a lot of the companies are now having a hybrid (arrangement) where people will be coming to the office and have the flexibility to work from home.”
Increasing productivity at work
With 2022 projecting a rather great start, the EPS Consultants chief commercial officer reveals his thoughts on effective ways to encourage employees to be more productive in this period of time. Matthew’s idea was for leaders to have an excellent way of managing their employees, which include being considerate while emphasising their productivity as they too could be facing real-life problems in their homes.
The concept of humanising the workplace is more prevalent now than ever before as we witness the more personal or human side to our colleagues at work while on virtual meetings – for example, seeing a child or a pet showing up on our screens.
Matthew commented, “Even one of the reporters on CNN had one of his children running around behind him in the home office while he was doing a live interview; so, it’s good to see that because these are real-world problems that people are facing while working remotely or working from home.
“The trend now is inviting your staff to come back to the office. I don’t think that it should be mandatory that they’re in the office. Obviously, there is some staff who are more productive in the office and there are some staff who have a very successful career or job when they’re working remotely.”
In a recent survey by Accenture, 63 per cent of well-known companies around the world have adopted a “productivity anywhere” workforce where companies encourage their employees to unleash their potential anywhere other than in their offices. The survey also found that a total of over 83 per cent of employees preferred a hybrid work model compared to traditional working arrangements.
The importance of good employer-employee relationships along with an idea to create alternate schedules to motivate employees to come back into the offices. This way, employees can experience freedom and flexibility in their working schedules which might help heighten staff productivity levels.
Matthew shared his experience at EPS Malaysia where a hybrid arrangement is put in place based on team rotation, “In EPS, and I’m very fortunate to have joined EPS Malaysia, even in our office in KL, we have a split shift – which means half of the team will come in one week and half the team will work from home on alternate weeks so we’ve really got to be adjusting all the time to this new environment. I guess it is very exciting to see people coming back into the office. I think this is a big thing because even though we’ve enjoyed working remotely for the last couple of years and we’ve become used to that, without human interaction, I think there certainly are challenges.”
“It’s more on how you’re managing the employees’ productivity, but it’s about managing relationships as well, and I think this is really important. Companies now have to put a plan in place. How to bring people back into the office, managing productivity levels, and managing people – like their personalities and how the people feel about the level of freedom in the last couple of years,” continued Matthew, who is also the vice-chairman of the Malaysia Australia Business Council.
In terms of creating a safe working space, Matthew reiterated that it is best to have a plan at hand before inviting employees back to work in the office since the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was spreading as of late. “I think having a plan in place is really important to show the staff that they could feel safe when they come into the office,” commented Matthew.
An example corporations could consider is EPS Consultants’ work culture that focuses not only on productivity but also safety at work. “At EPS Malaysia, all staff are on split shifts, … and all employees are to take the Antigen Rapid Test at the beginning of the week, even though they are vaccinated with the booster shot and there are other measures in place within the office to separate the teams, so they got their own personal space and things like that. It is one of the levels of SOPs and security to enable a safe environment for the staff to come back to the office,” said Matthew.
Upcoming Trends and the Future
Moving on to the trends in the value of corporate commercial properties that might viral over the next 12 months, Matthew shared his thoughts on how many companies are now looking at utilising shared office or co-working spaces with a different environment rather than permanent offices since many employees will not be utilising the office space for work while in a hybrid working environment.
“I think it allows companies to mitigate their costs, risks, and also sets up the environment for a shared office environment as well,” adding that it is also a given opportunity to enhance relationships with other companies or businesses.
While on the topic of whether it is a decentralised trend to lay off unproductive staff in order to achieve productivity, Matthew said that companies will have to learn how to retain and give their staffs flexibility.
Stemming from convenience, one of the trends is companies outsourcing certain job positions and using services by external providers such as EPS Consultants, which offers end-to-end service like taking over the payroll, benefits, and HR lines on behalf of companies
“It allows companies to de-risk, which means that instead of a fixed cost, it becomes a variable cost feature. An invoice would be sent out to the companies at the end of every month,” explains Matthew.
Finally, Matthew shares his prediction of 2022 saying that Malaysians could look forward to a quick recovery from the pandemic “so long as the government steps in and keep supporting the recovery process through various programmes, incentives, grants and the like.” Quoting a projection from Standard Chartered Bank Malaysia Berhad’s 2022 market outlook, Matthew said, “Malaysia has projected Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 6.2 per cent this year from 3.5 per cent in 2021, which is really encouraging. We are on track even with these new variants of COVID and we are already adjusting to it here. I think Malaysia is one of the best countries in the world to live in right now; everybody takes COVID really seriously and we take a lot of precautions personally.”
Matthew concluded, “We are happy that the worst of COVID is truly behind us. My crystal ball prediction, if I’m not being too ambitious, is that in the next 12 months, we’re going to go into a real recovery phase and see a lot of exciting opportunities for businesses in Malaysia.”
*Written by: Ruzanna Muhammad and Isabelle Chua for News Hub Asia, based on the conversation between Matthew Barsing and Nordin Abdullah, Founding Chairman of the Malaysia Global Business Forum, on the live online show, ‘A Working Lunch with Nordin’. Click here to watch the full interview.