Vaccines and preparing for the “future normal” of work

Brian Sim is the Managing Director and Country Head of PERSOLKELLY Malaysia, a human resources solution company. In this article, he takes a look at the significant transformation that has taken place in the work arena and how the landscape of working norms might just not return to the days of pre-COVID-19.

By Brian Sim

It is hard to fathom just how much businesses have transformed in the span of 1 year. Covid-19 brought with is a sleugh of challenges, but it could also be seen as a litmus test for organisations to respond to emergency situations (in Malaysia, the Movement Control Order or “MCO”). Technology played a pivotal role in facilitating the transformation process of organisations, across all sectors – as remote work became the new normal.

Today, the main focus for almost every person and organisation is the vaccine. For many, it symbolises hope and a return to normal. There are also many who are more conservative in their views about the vaccine. Either way, both sides want the same thing – to protect their wellbeing and return to the status quo before Covid-19.

But is a return to the status quo even possible?

Many employees have become accustomed to working from home. They see its benefits, and how it fits in well with their lifestyle, and so they may be reluctant to commit once more to a full-time desk job. This is a sentiment verified in multiple studies, including the UOB ASEAN Consumer Sentiment Study which stated that 9 in 10 Malaysian employees expect flexible working arrangements to continue post Covid-19. Similarly, Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, aptly titled “The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?”, also found that 77% of workers in Malaysia want flexible remote work options to continue.

While the exact statistics may differ, the conclusion is unanimous – most Malaysians want flexible work options to remain. This is especially true as more workers from Generation Z join the workforce, bringing with them a different mindset and expectation about work that employers today must respond to, in order to cultivate their potential and retain them as valued employees within their organisation.

These statistics make even more sense when it comes to vaccination. Its arrival in Malaysia has played a significant role in boosting the morale of the country, increasing investor optimism in the Malaysian economy as a whole. While most will likely get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them, there are some who may choose not to get it.

What this means for organisations is that they will now need to prepare to navigate through uncharted territories once more and strategise on how they can manage a workforce that may contain a mix of vaccinated and un-vaccinated employees. This will often involve complex considerations that essentially asks the organisation to play a balancing act, between what works for the individual and what works for the business.

This is where leaders (especially those working closely with human resources) should step in to strategise an approach that best fits the employees, the organisation and the industry within which it operates. Mapping out a strategy with regards to vaccination and the post-Covid-19 workplace will require a number of considerations:

  1. Learning from other businesses – A good starting point is to look at what other businesses within the industry are already doing and weighing their approach against what would work for your organisation. This is purely to provide quick example on what does or does not work well for an organisation and serves as a good starting point.
  2. Listening to your employees – While learning from other businesses is good, it pales in terms of importance when compared to taking feedback from employees. Leaders must take the initiative to listen to their employees and understand their needs before mapping out any roadmap. This is especially important when it comes to vaccination, as communication will be vital both in terms of keeping track of vaccination progress, as well as supporting those who are reluctant or unable to get vaccinated.
  3. Seek expert guidance – Most organisations do not have medical experts on-board to explain the intricacies of vaccines. This is where organisations would benefit from working together with experts from the medical field, to create awareness about vaccines and convince those who are uncertain to decide.

While the points mentioned above are non-exhaustive, they are all important in determining how an organisation will handle their workforce in the post-Covid-19 work environment. The decisions made based on these considerations will shape the future work culture of the organisation, as well as its ability to remain inclusive and attractive to the workforce.

Ultimately, each organisation will need to tailor their approach according to what works best for them and their employees. While the health of its employees should remain every organisation’s top priority, organisations should still strive to develop workplace policies that take into account the needs of both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees.

We are at the start of a new phase in our nation. Vaccines will undoubtedly have an impact on all organisations moving forward, and it is up to business and its leaders to determine the way forward and begin planning the future normal of their workplace.