WORK FROM HOME FOR THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY: IS IT POSSIBLE?
Leong Hoi Fei, Farhana Mohd Zaini
Work From Home (WFH) is not a new practice, as the implementation has begun in the past three years during the pandemic. It is very popular during the COVID-19 pandemic as it is the most effective approach to control the spread of COVID-19 infection cases in Malaysia and all other countries (Suratkon & Azlan, 2021a). Understandingly, before the COVID-19 pandemic, WFH in Malaysia is considered complex and foreign, especially for the construction industry, where certain works require a person to present physically, and it is even considered impossible to WFH for the construction site. However, WFH seems possible for people working from the office (WFO) as they usually deal with computers and documents.
Definition of WFH
Work from home (WFH) has a common definition that is a combination of flexi-time, working from home, teleworking, permanent part-time and career break. WFH environment is most suitable for highly independent individuals, knowledge-bask with less face-to-face contact employees (Ambikapathy & Ali, 2020a). On the other hand, WFH, also known as home office, allows employees a certain extent of flexibility to complete their job duties at a location other than the office, such as their homes. WFH can be regularly based at home, highly mobile in several locations, or occasionally working outside the office. Workers may work fully or occasionally several days from home with the same benefits as those who work in traditional office settings. Since WFH has been implemented in various ways, like fully working from home or alternately working several days per week, WFH is a complex organisational model which is agile and distinctive in different countries, regions and industries (Asian Education and Development Studies, n.d.).
WFH Implementation in Malaysia
Implementing WFH in Malaysia sounds difficult, especially for those who are living with their family because this practice requires many preparations at home, such as a quiet place, a dedicated space with a high internet connection and an understanding among family members (Suratkon & Azlan, 2021b).
There are several barriers that WFH will inhibit social occasions when connecting employers and employees online. A study in the US, India and Germany found that employees will improve their productivity through good communication and collaboration between partners and co-workers. This is because face-to-face communication is more effective as teammates may feel more compelled to listen if they can hear your voice and watch your body language at the same time (Suratkon & Azlan, 2021b)
Also, some people do not always have positive work experience when WFH. Women employees went through additional burdens as they needed to play two different roles, handle the presence of kids and perform their job duties. As a result, they will feel extra pressure and fatigue compared with work at the office, which did not help them achieve a work-life balance during the WFH period (Ambikapathy & Ali, 2020b).
In addition, some of the workers also reported that they had worked more than 50 hours weekly, exceeding 48 hours of government hours. This is because they have to attend calls and entertain clients daily due to their responsibility at home, and lack of physical communication lead to online communication, which impacts workers working arrangement. This will not only cause pressure and stress but also cause strain in their eyes and neck and lower back pain (Sharma & Vaish, 2020).
Benefits of WFH Implementation
WFH also brings many benefits for both parties, including boosted productivity and emission reduction since everyone stays home. Less transportation use, increased flexibility and control over work schedule, reduced commuting time and costs, which bring a huge impact on workers mental and health, especially for those who live in town, greater job satisfaction and engagement, improved health and well-being, increased access to job opportunities and talent pool and many more (Allen et al., 2015; Ambikapathy & Ali, 2020b; Rodríguez-Modroño & Igual, 2021; Toscano et al., n.d.; Ulfert et al., 2022; Wong et al., 2021).
Thus, this study aims to determine the possibility of WFH from the construction industry perspective, specifically for office-based workers.
Methodology and Analysis
This study mainly focuses on contractors in Kuala Lumpur, classified in G7 and from those who work at the office only. The scope selected is to identify the rate of implementing WFH by the contractors and the efficiency of work done among the contractors in the Malaysian construction industry. The data collection for this study will be conducted using a questionnaire survey. A random sampling method is selected, and 350 questionnaire surveys will be distributed to the G7 contractor in Kuala Lumpur. A questionnaire survey is created in Google form and distributed via email and WhatsApp application as it is the most convenient method for getting the respondent’s feedback. Results and discussion will be presented in the following tables and figures:
Table 1.1: Work from home implementation
Table 2.2: Categories of work from home
Figure 1.1: Benefits of Work from Home
Table 1.2: Challenges of Work from Home
Three hundred fifty questionnaires were distributed via email and WhatsApp application, and 332 have been returned. Based on the result, it is found that almost 19% of the respondents practice WFH while the remaining do not, as per Table 1.1. However, in Table 1.2, none of the companies allowed their workers to be fully WFH, but it is possible to WFH once or twice a week. Therefore, it can be said that WFH for the construction industry can be implemented. Looking at the benefits of WFH, it can be said that all the respondents agreed that WFH brings many benefits, which are better management and responsibilities, independence, motivation, time and money, focus, comfort, reduced stress, increased flexibility, become more productive and improve work-life balance which has been discussed before. It can also be said that most respondents support WFH if it is being implemented in their company or is already being implemented.
Based on Table 1.2 categories of WFH implementation and Figure 1.2 challenges of WFH, it is understandable why the WFH practice is considered low, especially for fully WFH categories.
Most respondents agree that WFH will weaken such as;
· colleague relationships,
· data security threats,
· isolation and loneliness,
· communication challenges,
· lack of resources,
· technology difficulties,
· lack of supervision,
· burnout, and
· difficulties separating work and home life.
All the respondents agree that WFH contributes many benefits and courage, but at the same time, WFH also contributes negative impacts towards an individual life. However, the negative impact could be reduced or prevented if WFH practice falls under once a week, twice a week, thrice a week or alternative week. Workers will enjoy the benefits of WFH. At the same time, the negative impact can be reduced if they still come to the office to enjoy their facilities and meet their colleagues for a face-to-face discussion.
Therefore, it can be said that WFH for construction industries, specifically for office-based workers, should be implemented for all workers but not fully in the WFH categories, together with proper planning and preparation. Employers should consider training their employees to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to work effectively from home. The communication and collaboration challenges can be addressed by implementing effective communication tools and platforms and regularly engaging with employees to keep them motivated and connected with their colleagues. Companies can organise virtual team-building activities and regular employee check-ins to minimise isolation and loneliness. Data security threats can be mitigated by providing secure access to company data and ensuring that employees know the best practices for data security. By addressing these challenges, companies can successfully implement work from home in the construction industry and maximise its potential benefits.
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