Working from home is here to stay while its hybrid model is becoming more popular, says experts

The Work From Home (WFH) trend is still going strong in Thailand – despite the reopening of businesses and the absence of local coronavirus transmission cases during the past three months.

At least 20 per cent of Thai corporations have permanently shifted to working from home, multinational consulting firm PwC said last month. The main reasons are to keep employees safe and save costs, they added.

In fact, a majority of respondents, 78 per cent, expect remote working and collaboration to have a lasting impact after the pandemic, according to a CEO Panel Survey with a sample size of 699 CEOs from 67 countries conducted during June and July of 2020.

This was followed by shifts towards automation at low-density workplaces – at 76 and 61 per cent respectively.

Large tech companies such as Google and Facebook said in May that their staff can work from home until the end of the year.

Twitter even said in the same month that their employees could now work from home “forever” if they wanted to.

As the US has become the current epicentre of the pandemic, Google said in July that its WFH order – which is affecting nearly all of its 200,000 employees – is now being extended until July 2021.  

Pirata Phakdeesattayaphong, a Consulting Partner for PwC Thailand, said the pandemic has forced companies to embrace social distancing, which turned WFH policies into the new normal.

Apart from keeping their employees safe, the companies are also saving on office rent, utility bills and other maintenance costs.

Some companies are also using a hybrid work model in which staff have the option of working from home or coming to the office for meetings or workshops.

They said this is because working from home for an extended period of time can actually be stressful – as some employees have struggled to find work-life balance, she added.

Most people prefer working from home for at least two days a week, according to data from PwC.

Amarit Charoenphan, co-founder HUBBA, Thailand’s first co-working space, told Thai Enquirer that more and more people are enjoying the new hybrid way of working.

“We are seeing a lot of stats out there that at least a quarter of the working people enjoy remote working and about half of them enjoy alternating between remote and office working,” he commented.

Amarit added that digital-savvy businesses with low footprints are the most adapted in working remotely.

With the cost saving benefits – the number of start-ups and entrepreneurs coming out to use co-working spaces has inevitably declined, he added.

“Co-working spaces are not filling up as fast after Covid,” he said.

However, unless the law is amended to allow corporates to completely have paperless and remote board meetings, there are still going to be a fair amount of people that are still going to have to show up to the office, Amarit said – workers such as administrative and accountant staffs.

Still, a lot of these jobs are now being simplified by artificial intelligence. The machine are learning every day, which means that many of these roles will eventually be digitised.

Companies that can choose to work remotely will be at an advantage cost wise, Amarit said, especially if they build their organisation on the ground up to work remote productively.

“The myth that people cannot work remotely because staffs will not be motivated enough and some might not know what they are doing is a fallacy. You can be self-motivated and disciplined enough to work remotely,” he said.

“This whole command and control structure with CEO telling people what to do in the office is very old school as everyone is connected online now. There are digital tools and solutions out there to cope with working from home,” he added.

As a result, Amarit said there will be a glut of office supplies as there is already two times the amount of co-working space inventory since 2019. The demand is definitely going to be much lower in 2020 because of social distancing.

“We are going through a hybrid model which is going great for the traffic, the environment and mental well-being,” Amarti said. “If people want to socialise, there will be a plethora of new digital tools to form virtual happy hours and so forth.”

“Physical connection will also be more coordinated, such as an online arrangement to go work at a coffee shop together or a co-working office for a day,” he added.   

Pirata said if the outbreak situation persists – with no end in sight – PwC expects more Thai companies to consider hiring contingent workers, freelancers and other outsourced and non-permanent staff who can be hired on a per-job or per-project basis.

“This so-called contingent workforce can provide flexibility and help companies manage employee costs in the long-term during these highly unpredictable times,” she explained.

WFH Challenges

Where it could be easy for some, working from home might not be a walk in the park for everyone, due to the many challenges are associated with it.   

As mentioned, many people find it hard to concentrate or motivate oneself to work at home – where there are various distractions. The main challenges of WFH lie in the quality of work and overall productivity.

Pirata has suggested the adaptation of digital solutions to track work progress and prioritising automation for certain types of operations to cope with these problems.

Motivation is also vital, where human resources functions need to provide opportunities for employees to meet, connect and build communities so they are more engaged.

Companies also need to have a clear policy on vacation days for employees and protocols for break times during the day, she added.

Cybersecurity also pose as another important challenge that many companies, especially SMEs, have neglected. 

Tatchapol Poshyanonoda, Palo Alto Networks’ Country Director of Thailand and Indochina, said that in the past, companies have had the time and resources to set up security protocols.

This includes training remote workers to follow their corporate standards, such as using secure passwords, following strict Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) guidelines, and policies for staff wanting to use personal devices to access the corporate network.

However, the coronavirus outbreak has brought a new challenge for companies to quickly set up a secure WFH environment at scale to protect company information from the threat of cybersecurity breaches.

According to Palo Alto’s ‘The State of Cybersecurity in Asia Pacific’ survey, almost half or 47 per cent of 500 industry professionals from Australia, China, Hong Kong, India and Singapore stated that their biggest cybersecurity challenge was their employees’ lack of cybersecurity awareness.

What we can learn from WFH

Neville Vincent, Vice President of South Asia Pacific at Nutanix, a California-based cloud computing company, told Thai Enquirer that the first step for both employer and employee is the recognition and acknowledgment that WFH is now the new normal.

After the recognition, protocols can then be set up to make work from home more efficient and productive.  

“We are encouraging our people to be a lot more disciplined on break times or when they are on call so they can keep in touch with their colleagues and customers,” he said.

He said business travelling that companies saw was mandatory is probably less important now as digital solutions currently allow for various forms of connections and meetings online.

“The most important thing here is to learn how to get the best out of these tools,” he said.

Another crucial aspect is respect. There needs to be mutual respect that the workplace is now someone’s home and they should not be judged if, for an instance, their kids ran into the camera feed during a meeting.

Neville also pointed out that even as the pandemic changes the daily work lives of employees, it is still critical that they learn to develop new skills while adapting to the new normal.

“We are encouraging people to see this as an opportunity to acquire knowledge on our customers, offers, partners and competitions,” he said.

“We are also encouraging them to develop new personal skills such as computer, account planning, and research skills,” he added.

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