Is Remote Working New?
But before we go further, it might be good to revisit some of these global headlines first.
Remote Working, early 2020 onwards
Myth: A work arrangement induced by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Truth: Remote Working has been around even before the pandemic. It was previously reserved for a select group who can work outside of the office because their absence on-site doesn’t impact the company. They were known as the Freelancers.
The Great Resignation, mid-2021
Myth: A wave of resignations because employees were unhappy at work.
Truth: The media may have focused on “resignations” but on the flip side, there were also better opportunities for the employees to take a shot at after the cessation of jobs and companies caused by the pandemic.
Quietly Quitting, mid-to-late 2021
Myth: Doing as they please at work but below the radar for the sake of the paychecks.
Truth: Employees do just enough to get by but will not warrant remedial actions like Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) from the HR Department.
The changing circumstances that forced everyone to work from home but to return again to the office when the lockdown was lifted triggered a mindset shift among the employees. They were no longer interested to clock in and slave away for a paycheck regardless of the quantum. Instead, they prioritise work-life balance. This new HR paradigm shift is now rooted across the talent market, much like the traffic crawls in the city at off peak hours and the jam packed shopping malls on the weekends.
The Great Come Back
But was it contradicting then when people like Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan), Elon Musk (Tesla), Tim Cook (Apple) etc asked their employees to return to the office to work as early as 2021?
To be fair, these instructions were targeted at those who were originally working on-site, not the “off-site” ones like the freelancers. And really, it is more advantageous for the company when this set of employees work in the office because not every train of thought can hold until they come back or be as effective via Zoom.
But all is not lost either because when one door closes, another opens and as we speak, another wave of remote engagements are happening actively in Asia and Southeast Asia where Western companies in particular are increasingly setting up offices here for their support services such as call centres and IT support. This to them is Remote Working.
Just recently, I was invited to a university and during the Q&A session, one student asked if it was acceptable to ask questions during interviews. I said yes and in fact they should but to my surprise, he wanted to ask how many cups of coffee he could have in the office.
Traditionally, this would have been a silly question, and I did share my reasons for it. My stand was that when graduates are interviewed or about to be offered a job, they should try their best to secure the job and work their way through at the job later on even if they had no idea about what they wanted to do before the interview. That is the kind of wisdom we were taught and I thought jobseekers today might still hold dear to such advice.
But I stopped to think further after the session and was a little taken aback at the pragmatism of that question. The truth is, the affluence of the Malaysian market has changed the socioeconomic appetite of its people. If our priority 20 or 30 years ago was about grabbing a job first and work out the rest later, the same doesn’t hold true today.
Expanding Social Awareness
With advances in social awareness, the result is a heightened sense of sophisticated tastes and preferences. This may have influenced what the 2023’s equation look like for the new generation of employees:
- Is my salary enough to buy coffee, cakes, mobile data, e-vouchers etc?
- If the job is good but doesn’t pay enough, can the candidates derive some of their lifestyle demands from the workplace?
- Are employers willing to chip into some “modern” benefits to secure qualified talents?
- Are companies ready to look seriously into personnel development and invest into training, compensation & benefits schemes etc?
- Can employees have the autonomy to choose their benefits eg. gym membership instead of medical insurance?
- Will companies extend a flexible balance between work from home and work in the office?
These are what HR practitioners ought to be thinking about right now and to a large extent, it’s what C-Suite executives need to consider as well.
Gone are the days of quietly satisfied because the realist society has arrived. Candidates today are more than ready to vocalise their wishes, “Can you pay me enough so I can work for you?” rather than “Why pay me so little and expect me to struggle at work?”
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