Evolution of working space in Malaysia in post-pandemic years

Managers who embrace this ongoing transformation of work styles will position themselves and their teams for success in this new landscape 


THE Covid-19 pandemic has turbocharged the shift towards remote work, compelling businesses in all sectors to swiftly adjust their policies and operations. 

As lockdown eases, and our understanding of “normal” evolves, employers grapple with the complexities of managing teams that spread across different locations, balancing office and remote work in hybrid models. 

To navigate this uncharted terrain effectively, it’s crucial to consider various factors like communication, collaboration tools, productivity metrics, cost implications, maintaining work-life balance, enhancing employee experience and reevaluating real estate needs. 

While implementing these changes poses challenges, companies that can adapt their cultures and harness technology to address the multi-faceted impacts of long-term remote work stands to gain a competitive advantage. 

Maintaining an ethos of openness, flexibility and prioritising employee wellbeing emerges as essential as we witness the ongoing evolution of remote and hybrid work arrangements shaping the future of work in real-time. 

Managers who embrace this ongoing transformation of work styles will position themselves and their teams for success in this new landscape. 

According to the coworking space and flexible work-space provider WORQ CEO and co-founder Stephanie Ping, the reasons why companies choose the hybrid work model are diverse, reflecting their unique needs. 

She observed that the early adopters in Malaysia are primarily concentrated in the service sector, including industries like finance, tech, media, business services and shared service, which are more adaptable to flexible work arrangements due to their work nature. 

“With many businesses embracing hybrid and flexible work models, it presents a significant opportunity for coworking spaces to cater to demand, leading to a growing number of adaptable workspaces that can cater to both workers’ and employers’ evolving needs,” Ping told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

Ping says MNCs appreciate coworking spaces’ scalability and convenience, allowing them to easily adjust their workspace needs as teams evolve

Ping said local entrepreneurs value the supportive community offered by coworking spaces, fostering valuable connections, knowledge sharing, and collaboration, all crucial for their growth and development. 

Meanwhile, she said multinational corporations (MNCs) appreciate coworking spaces’ scalability and convenience, allowing them to easily adjust their workspace needs as teams evolve. 

For foreign companies venturing into Malaysia where navigating unfamiliar legal and operational landscapes can be daunting, Ping said opting for hybrid working arrangements is one immediate choice. 

“We have seen a diverse clientele at WORQ, with 70% of WORQ customers being enterprise clients and MNCs, as more international firms set up their operations in Malaysia,” she said. 

Unlike traditional offices, coworking spaces offer advanced amenities, flexible locations, and a professional community without individual ownership burdens. For both remote working employees and companies, opting for co-working subscription offers additional value beyond just cost effectiveness but allows businesses to focus on their core competencies and growth strategy. 

Our preference is a hybrid model with flexibility and face-to-face interactions vital for building trust and camaraderie among teams, says Jackline (pic: Jackline’s LinkedIn)

Managing the Transition Back to the Office

Liberty General Insurance Bhd implemented flexible hours after the pandemic to ease congestion, with staggered timings to accommodate employees’ needs when transitioning back on-site. 

Selecting an accessible location near public transportation also minimizes commuting challenges. 

Liberty General Insurance talent and organisational capabilities head Jackline Mariyam Pillai said remote work arrangements has had a positive impact on its brand standpoint and led to a boost in employee morale along with an increase in productivity and efficiency. 

“While many companies have shifted back to a full-time onsite working arrangement, Liberty has opted to remain on a hybrid work schedule for non-customer-facing functions allowing our employees to come in twice a week at minimum,” she said. 

Jackline believes this transition has enabled employees to be more motivated, better manage their work and personal time, therefore providing for a better work-life balance. 

However, robust protection protocols aligned with government guidelines reassure employee safety, including cleaning procedures, health checks, distancing markers and personal protective equipment (PPE). Gradually transitioning through hybrid models allows small-scale testing before full implementation. 

Pros and Cons of Remote Work

For companies implementing hybrid models, they can benefit from adopting a gradual and iterative approach. Businesses should start by implementing the model on a small scale, allowing for testing, adjustments and identification of areas for improvement before full-scale adoption. 

Apart from that, companies should experiment with different configurations, such as hot desks or shared desks, to determine what works best for specific teams and the organisation as a whole. 

Ping said she sees hybrid work as a game-changer for businesses, especially for smaller businesses to scale as it helps with tangible benefits like pay-per-use models, reduced capital investments, and on-demand space utilisation. 

“The advantages extend beyond cost savings. Hybrid models enable companies to attract talent from a wider pool which brings diverse perspectives and expertise, enhancing team innovation and problem-solving,” Ping said. 

In terms of cost, home offices can have hidden costs with increased utilities and furniture expenses as teams grow, while coworking spaces provide cost-effective, scalable solutions without capital expenditure. 

By embracing full remote work, Ping shared that some clients achieved over 75% space savings by shifting from capital expenditure to an operating expenditure model. This agile approach enables quick scaling as needs change. 

“Creative departments, for instance, might thrive on brainstorming sessions and in-person collaboration, necessitating a more office-based approach. Conversely, roles like sales, involving frequent movement and administrative tasks, might be well-suited for remote work,” she added. 

With dispersed teams, isolation and communication barriers may arise, therefore before implementation, it is crucial for companies to gather accurate data to address this through discussions with middle managers and employees, so that hybrid models are tailored to each team’s needs and preferences. 

“Despite that, offering flexibility and control over work location, companies can foster happier, more engaged employees, leading to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, and lower employee turnover — a win-win for both the organisation and its workforce,” Ping concluded. 

Impacts on Mental Health, Work-Life Balance

Adding further, Jackline learned that one of the main challenges against managing a hybrid or fully remote workforce is that some companies struggle with the concepts of transparency and trust. 

Jackline added that remote work can enable better work-life balance but may negatively impact mental health without proper safeguards. 

“Flexibility in working conditions has proved beneficial as employees are more motivated and able to manage work and personal time, therefore having better balance,” she said, adding that there is a danger of feelings of isolation can develop for being apart from colleagues over time. 

“That’s why our preference is a hybrid model with flexibility, as well as face-to-face interactions vital for building trust and camaraderie among teams,” she said. 

Fostering open communication and providing mental health resources helps ease anxieties. Companies should convey timelines and policies clearly so employees understand expectations. Surveys and feedback channels provide insight on specific concerns. 

Changes in Office Space layout, Demand 

The rise of hybrid models significantly reduces traditional office space layout and demand as such companies will shift towards shared spaces, including hot desks, where employees can choose from available workstations each time they come into the office. 

Ping predicted that “assigned desks” will become obsolete as office layouts prioritise collaborative areas versus individual workstations. Rooms will be designed for multiple functionalities, easily transforming from individual work areas to collaborative spaces. 

“Conversely, we’ll see a reduction in individual desks and cubicles, creating a more open and interactive environment. Modular furniture will become the norm, allowing companies to adapt and reconfigure their workspaces as needs evolve easily,” she said. 

This increased mobility necessitates more storage solutions like lockers to accommodate personal belongings. Office layouts prioritise collaborative spaces like brainstorming, discussion and breakout areas. 

Some companies may ditch headquarters entirely, instead establishing networks of coworking spaces across operating regions for distributed teams. 

“Technology will play a key role in facilitating this shift. Advanced solutions will enable employees to easily access and utilise any available workspace, regardless of location,” Ping said. 

Vic says the shift to remote and hybrid work has altered hiring practices, with a 15% increase in contract staff recruitment, particularly among small businesses (pic: Vic’s LinkedIn)

Adapting Policies to Evolving Preferences

Companies must stay agile amid post-pandemic employee preference shifts toward remote and hybrid work by tailoring policies accordingly. 

Jackline mentioned that surveys at Liberty Insurance found 73% of staff favoured hybrid arrangements even after lockdowns were lifted. 

“We met this demand by continuing hybrid working environment today, with options for employees to work from home three days a week and with the option to work onsite based on their preference,” she said. 

However, to ensure the success of a hybrid workforce, Jackline believes introducing a robust performance management ecosystem is key such as initiating clear key performance indicators, regular check-ins, development plans, 360 peer review, and structured rewards programs. 

In addition, continuous engagement with employees is critical to success, such as through town halls, power-up sessions, dialogue sessions, forums, focus groups and councils. 

Echoing the sentiment, Malaysia Jobstreet by SEEK MD Vic Sithasanan, said staying updated on evolving remote work preferences is essential for companies to find optimal balances suiting all sides. 

He said the shift to remote and hybrid work has altered hiring practices, with a 15% increase in contract staff recruitment, particularly among small businesses. 

“This reflects a strategic approach to flexible staffing solutions, catering to evolving business needs and a need for jobseekers to further develop skills that would suit the current market,” he added. 

While definitive predictions remain elusive, the future is undoubtedly flexible. Maintaining constant dialogue and upholding employee-centric cultures must remain top priorities rather than afterthoughts. 

Organisations that embrace the benefits of both remote collaboration and in-person connectivity will discover new hybrid balances optimized for their needs. 

The coming years promise continued disruption, but also openings for resilience, growth and workforces that feel genuinely valued through policies placing experience and well-being at the centre. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition