Post COVID-19

Remote Working in APAC

Remote Working photo


With the surge of COVID-19 sweeping across the globe, we take a look at how businesses had to adopt remote working as their modus operandi, and how the pandemic has made an impact on this concept.

Impact of COVID-19 on Remote Working

COVID-19 has brought about an unprecedented change across the world. As the world went into lockdown across continents, offices were forced to pull down their shutters and employees had to stay at home. Employers had to improvise quickly or risk losing their businesses. What was their next course of action? Remote working.

Now, let’s be clear that remote working, or telecommuting, is not a new concept that emerged due to COVID-19. But it is for sure a concept that became the ‘norm’ because of COVID-19. Before this pandemic, only a handful of companies across the world, such as Appen, Amazon, VIPKID, Abbott, Sanofi, and American Express, had chosen to hire telecommuting employees, as they had recognised that some roles in their company did not require their employees to be in the office physically. As one can tell from the company names above, telecommuting was a concept that was embraced more by the Western world, rather than in Asia.

Now fast forward to the present. According to a Gartner webinar snap poll, 91% of HR leaders across the Asia Pacific region who attended their webinar indicated that their companies had implemented working from home to keep workflow going through this pandemic.  The pandemic had forced companies in Asia to begin experimenting with the idea of remote working, despite many businesses being completely unprepared for it.

Boom of video conferencing applications

So what do you do when you need to work from home and stay in touch with your colleagues? Download video conferencing applications, of course! In mid-March, as many countries across the world saw lockdowns being put in place, video conferencing applications saw an incredible 62 million downloads worldwide within a week. According to mobile data and analytics provider App Annie, this was a 90% spike in comparison to the same week in 2019.

Taking the lead was Zoom – an application which many across the world are now familiar with – which generated close to 131 million downloads in April. The highest number of downloads surprisingly came from India, with its population making up 18.2% of Zoom’s downloads, indicating that this Asian country was quick to implement remote working to accommodate the lockdown of over 1.3 billion people.

Other popular applications include Google Meet, Skype, WhatsApp, and Houseparty, the last being an application which is designed more for social purposes. While most of these applications have been around for many years, the influx in downloads only came about when the COVID-19 struck, and the importance for such applications to one’s everyday life, both professionally and socially, came about.

Remote working – bane or boon?

Ideally, the concept of working remotely may sound attractive for both employees and their employers. Employees can conveniently work from home while juggling their daily responsibilities at home. The daily commute to and from work can be eradicated, saving time and money. Working parents are able to spend more time with their children and nurture them while earning an income.

Employees aren’t the only ones who would benefit from a work-from-home arrangement. From an employer’s perspective, money can be saved by doing away with office rentals, expenses can be reduced significantly by hiring a qualified individual from another country who may be more affordable, without having to go through the hassle of applying for employment passes and immigration permits for the employee.

However, is remote working all that it is hyped up to be? Apparently not, it seems. The idea of telecommuting has brought about mixed feelings from employees who have been forced to work from home. In a poll done by Forrester on Singaporean employees in March, it reflected that 60% were in favour of telecommuting. This was just before the Government imposed a ‘circuit breaker’ to curb the spread of the pandemic in April, resulting in businesses having to close their offices. Barely a month later, only 46% were in favour of working remotely, and 50% were looking forward to returning to their offices.

In Indonesia, it was reported by the Jakarta Post that employees are struggling with the remote working arrangements due to several factors, such as small apartment sizes, trying to juggle work and home life at the same time, and more importantly, poor internet connectivity and technological infrastructure. In a Harvard Business Review article, it was stated that research by Tufts University’s Fletcher School indicated that Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and India scored very poorly for the robustness of their digital platforms and the resilience of their internet infrastructure to traffic surges, indicating that these countries were not ready to adopt telecommuting as a way of life as yet.

In fact, even a country like Singapore, which is considered by many to be technologically advanced, has not been spared - its technological infrastructure being compromised by high traffic surges, as two of its major internet providers have faced outages during the ‘circuit breaker’ periods, resulting in frustration as employees were not able to get their work done from home, and employers faced delays and a lack of communication with their staff.

According to Malaysia’s Department of Statistics, only 33.5% of businesses in the country were able to arrange for their employees to work remotely during its Movement Control Order (MCO), while 35.6% opted to provide fully paid leave to their employees – an arrangement that can only be sustained for a period of between one and six months, depending on the firm’s financial position. Even then, for those working from home, a big issue is internet stability, as patchy internet connections result in the inability to conduct meetings effectively and to complete work smoothly.

Moving forward

Many experts have stated that the concept of remote working is here to stay, especially in the foreseeable future as social distancing – or better, physical distancing – becomes the norm. Technological giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the like are already embracing the concept and are allowing employees to work remotely. However, aside from the technological issues faced by people working from home, it is also worth noting that this style of operation has exacerbated mental issues for many, as the loneliness from a lack of social interaction, disruption in routines, and the struggle of juggling work and personal life come into play.

To overcome all the issues and bring forth the positive aspects of remote working, proper blueprints should be put in place by companies to ensure that remote working does not cause disruption but rather provides continuity for their employees. It is ideal for those in management positions to discuss with their teams how best to proceed from this pandemic, to ensure that an ideal management practice is put in place.

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Singapore Indonesia Covid19 Impact Post Covid Remote Working Malaysia

Photograph : Ryan Morse /