By: Joey Lim, Lark Vice President of Commercial, Asia
The Covid-19 pandemic smashed a hard dent to economic markets in Southeast Asia and everywhere around the world. As the pandemic continues with seemingly no end in sight, and businesses struggle to cope with the economic fallout, the future appears gloomy for the local workforce. In August 2020, Malaysia witnessed the national unemployment rate a rise to 4.7%, with more Southeast Asian countries seeing the same trend.
However, a general rule would suggest that new problems are but opportunities for new solutions. Evidently, where some companies have folded, others are thriving from a shift to digital. Throughout the region, governments have implemented various stimulus measures to assist local businesses to go online. In line with supporting the local economy, the Malaysian government committed RM700 million toward grants and loans for the digital transformation of SMEs.
With companies pushing to adapt in the pandemic via digital transformations, so must its valuable employees. Though, for the uninitiated looking to secure a job in this new environment, adapting while brushing on skills that complement today’s remote-workplace needs are key to an effective and positive work-from-home experience in line with our new normal.
Adapting to overcome new challenges
In just a matter of months, the pandemic has caused physical offices to shift online, meetings to be done from behind a computer screen, and reduced watercooler breaks to text messaging. In short, we all grew distant from human touch and physical interactions this year.
This abrupt and drastic change to life at the workplace left many disorientated with their daily operations. Despite the advantages of going digital, over 77% of employees in Malaysia initially reported a drop in productivity, at the beginning of April.
The resilience of the Malaysian workforce then flipped in June, when 69% of Malaysians reported to prefer their work-from-home arrangements as part of the new normal; and once again in August, with 9 in 10 Malaysians now preferring to work remotely as opposed to being physically present at the office.
Most interesting of all is to note that remote workers which were empowered with online collaborative tools during the study reported the highest productivity levels, at 77% - further cementing that remote working is indeed the new norm and collaborative technology is the key to an efficient remote workforce.
Embracing digitalisation has never been more important. Candidates need to be familiar and comfortable with using today’s digital tools and collaborating with their teams remotely. From being well-versed in video conferencing etiquette to co-developing ideas together on shared documents and sheets, digital collaboration platforms have become indispensable in businesses’ daily workflows.
In addition to these hard skills, certain soft skills or qualities have proven to be important in working in remote teams. It goes without saying that communication and collaboration skills are a must-have now that everyone is working from different places. Being adaptable to new ways of working, sporadic changes and unexpected situations are also crucial in today’s volatile landscape. Candidates would be wise to highlight these soft skills and provide instances of how they have exemplified these qualities in their previous roles.
Those applying for a leadership position should also demonstrate their understanding of the current climate and explain how they would manage remote teams. For instance, offering teammates empathy and flexibility trumps prioritising efficiency during this period, when many are juggling added household responsibilities while working from home. Small gestures like gifting food delivery vouchers or organising virtual drinks to toast milestones and successes can also go a long way in making others feel supported.
It takes two to tango
However, the responsibility of upskilling does not lie only with employees but employers too. To create a productive remote workforce, companies should provide ample opportunities for their employees to develop new skills. In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 87 percent of executives reported experiencing skills gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. But only less than half had a clear sense of how to address the problem.
Upskilling has always been a sure-fire way to futureproof one’s business or career, and there are many ways for companies to build a learning culture. For example, Chief Learning Officers, or CLOs, can help organisations develop digital training programmes and create a learning ecosystem to produce and deliver regular content to employees. Organisations can also incentivise learning by providing rewards to employees who complete certifications or offering paid time-off to attend these classes.
Alternatively, brown bag sessions are also an easy way for teams to share best practices and knowledge on a particular topic. Our team at Lark recently concluded a session on customer success, where senior members on the team shared helpful tips on how to strengthen relationships with clients and boost customer happiness.
Equipping employees with the right collaboration tools
Besides encouraging upskilling among staff, employers themselves should be open to digitalisation and keep updated on the current developments in remote tech. Oftentimes these decisions are left to the IT team, when ideally senior management and human resources should be involved. They would have more insight on how teams collaborate every day, and thus can identify and plug gaps in the workflow using digital tools.
When deciding on digital tools, choose smart digital collaboration platforms that can seamlessly integrate various apps such as email, messenger, video conference, docs and more onto a single platform. This will not only up productivity, but reduce app fatigue among employees, which is often caused by having too many communication channels to manage.
Both small and large organisations will find collaboration suites to assist with productivity as the features allow the employees to concentrate on their work and communication among their teams all on one platform. Here are some real-world examples where organisations have equipped their employees with the right collaboration tools:
- Ramssol Group is a Malaysia-based leading Human Resource Information Management Service group which spans across five countries in Southeast Asia. They have used end-to-end collaboration tools and managed to efficiently thrive during the initial lockdown period, leading to the adoption of remote working practices for their employees.
- YaPEIM was founded to help Malaysians through social financing a variety of different programmes. As individual-focused messaging services lacked the capability for complex business communications, they relied on collaboration platforms to better manage groups and communicate more effectively.
- Megatech Education is a training institute focused on Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET). The closure of schools and institutions nationwide at the height of COVID-19 forced this institute to innovate towards a collaborative remote learning experience, using Lark’s integrated messaging and conference functions to bring the classroom experience to their screens.
Overall, there is no doubt that the industries we follow need to navigate a host of challenges today. From developing new skill sets to learning to collaborate remotely, contemporary remote workers need to be agile and adaptable, while staying positive and resilient throughout this pandemic.
However, employers too have an important role to play in the journey to build an effective remote workforce, as building a culture of lifelong learning does not only benefit employees but the companies themselves. It allows them to introduce new ways of working, stay globally competitive, and perhaps most importantly, pivot quickly in tough economic times.