No parking? Work from home
Winslow Wong 
A reader recently sent me a list of 11 companies in India with superb working rules for employees. Lucky are those working there! One of the companies is Philips’ branch in Gurgaon, New Delhi, whose employees can go back and work from home if they don’t get parking. The logic is simple but highly effective: logging in from home is more productive and quicker than finding parking.

That’s so cool, and I bet you many workers in Malaysia would also love to have such an unconventional yet progressive policy here. Business owners should consider this idea as a way to retain overstressed workers facing perennial parking woes.

Bengaluru-based SAP Labs has no strict timing as to when their employees come and go. They decide their work hours and can leave when their work is done. The logic is simple: it’s their productivity that matters, not the timing. So if they can finish their work in four hours instead of six, they’re free to leave. They can even work from home once a week, which can be extended if approved by their managers.

Workers at Future Group, a Mumbai-based retail company, can dictate their work hours, clocking in between 8.30am and 10.30am and leaving after eight hours of work. KPMG India allows workers to “work from anywhere” as long as they complete their assigned tasks effectively. The goal is to maximise productivity, performance and timelines by freeing employees from unavoidable daily restrictions. The Hyderabad branch of Microsoft even has its own buses and cabs to provide employees station-to-station pick-up and drop-off services. For staff security, cab drivers are monitored by company surveillance.

Malaysian companies can take a leaf out of the books of their Indian counterparts to make working life more bearable, even more comfortable, for their employees. For many, traffic congestion is a daily scourge, which my friend John jokingly lamented recently that it can often feel like navigating through a war zone. Traffic congestion seems to get worse despite some major initiatives in recent years. Hopefully, the newly-opened MRT Line 1 and other urban public transport initiatives will bring us the much-awaited relief.

Valuable time and money are lost when people get stuck in gridlock. In John’s case, he drives 45km daily from his house in Puchong to the Kuala Lumpur city centre. He leaves home at 6am and if he’s lucky, it takes him an hour to reach the office. If he’s not, he sits an extra 30 minutes in his car each way. On average, he spends RM8 daily on toll, RM150 weekly on fuel, and RM200 monthly on parking. But his biggest cost is time, with stress to boot.

According to the World Bank’s 2015 Malaysia’s Economic Monitor, commuters in Greater Kuala Lumpur wasted 270-500 million manhours in jams in 2014, at least RM3,100 per person in lost hours and fuel each year, with total cost of traffic estimated at 1.1% to 2.2% of our gross domestic product.

Instead of all the politicking and finger pointing, we should just focus on how best to solve this congestion nightmare. Companies can also do their part by adopting flexible work arrangements.

Last year, Talent Corporation Malaysia Bhd CEO Shareen Shariza Abdul Ghani reportedly said flexible work arrangements are adopted mainly by multinationals, with only 10% of 100 Bursa-listed companies surveyed considering it. That’s pathetic, by any standard.

One earlier adopter is BASF Asia-Pacific Service Centre, a Kuala Lumpur-based shared service centre providing functional services to the BASF group in the Asia-Pacific. According to the website, an initiative between the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and TalentCorp to facilitate the return of women to work, BASF’s Flexibility@Work Enhancement is committed to promote work-life balance and caters to the needs of a diverse workforce. Employees have flexi-hours and work-from-home options.

Under the flexi-hours option, employees can clock in anytime between 7am and 10am, as long as the eight-hour work day and 40-hour work-week criteria are fulfilled. Core hours of 10am to 4pm are also practised where employees should be present at work. For the work-from-home option, workers can practise this for up to four days in a month.

More employers should emulate BASF’s initiative. Telecommuting, also known as working from home or e-commuting, appeals to many, particularly younger workers, who enjoy working outside the office.

Telecommuting is not new here. I remember some 10 years ago, a business associate with a Petaling Jaya-based multinational was asked to work from home due to escalating office rental, utilities and other expenses. However, business meetings were held at the corporate office for branding and image purposes. As an incentive, he and others working from home were each given a monthly “home office allowance”. Staffers were instructed not to discuss the new work arrangement with any other person, except on a need-to-know basis.

Many employers are, surprisingly, not receptive to telecommuting or flexible schedules. It seems like such “flexible” hours are offered by only smaller businesses and one-man operations, judging from the many vacancies advertised on the internet. I came across this Facebook site for such jobs, but from the few comments I read, the backgrounds of some potential “employers” are shady at best.

In recent years, many companies have moved to the suburbs and less-crowded townships like Cyberjaya where more than 500 multinationals and local small and medium enterprises have located their operations. Workers in Malaysia’s Silicon Valley are fortunate as they can use the Cyberjaya Dedicated Transportation System, a 24/7 shuttle bus service servicing the Klang Valley and Seremban.

However, those working in many other areas are not that fortunate as they still have to brave the traffic jams or take often-unreliable public transport. Besides telecommuting or flexible schedules, employers should also explore other options such as providing shuttle bus or van services to MRT and LRT stations, ridesharing matching programmes or special incentives to use public transport. These are smart ways to attract and retain talent.

Winslow Wong is a corporate trainer and communications consultant. Comments:

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 246.