August 15, 2022
If you can’t take the car away from the Rakyat, try not making us have to rush into (and out of) the same place every morning and evening. How can it not work? Does your life in some way come into contact with traffic congestion? Do you live in or have to drive around the Klang Valley? Come on now, you know it’s been on your mind too. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone continued ‘working from home’ (WFH)? If there was one thing positive about the several stints we, in Malaysia, spent in lockdown (MCO), it was the absence of congestion. Everyone pretty much stayed home and consequently the roads were free and made so by government order. Surprisingly, the economy did not immediately crumble as the overwhelming majority of us took it upon ourselves to stay busy and ‘get on with it’. As an adaptation to avoid physical contact, WFH was something everyone around the world had to awkwardly stumble into. Suddenly everyone had to dust off that unused laptop webcam and make do with looking good from the waist up over a Zoom call. Making sure your kids or cat or dog or an explosion did not interrupt you during a remote meeting became the only real concern, not traffic jams, lane hoggers, slow drivers, random honks, finding a parking spot, and the probability of getting anywhere late. Can’t Have Traffic If There’s Nowhere To Be That’s just straight facts. If the majority or even some significant percentage of the country’s workforce did not have to show up at and leave the office at some arbitrary time (say, 9am-5pm), traffic congestion would just disappear. Nobody voluntarily gets themselves stuck in traffic, but we put up with it because of silly expectation as an employee. Think about it, would you subject yourself and your car to gridlock if you were the boss? Anyone and everyone can cite as many arguments about Malaysia’s (the Klang Valley in particular) terrible road condition, the spaghetti abomination that is our intra-city road and highway network, the costs of tolls. There’s plenty of criticise, obviously. Unfortunately, solving any of those issues is going to take years if not decades, and that’s assuming the deployed remedy isn’t the usual stop-gaps and short-term patch jobs we’re used to seeing. But What About Productivity? Commuting is a waste of time and energy that gets you exhausted even before you start actual ‘work’ each day. So why not cut it out of the equation all together instead of finding ways around it? Traffic has been a bane of urban human existence for over a full century and one that we just can’t get around to solve. We expand our cities, our population grows larger, we make more advanced vehicles, construct elaborate public transportation systems, but things….well, they still suck. However, the biggest hurdle to the adoption of WFH policies beyond the COVID-19 pandemic are employers themselves who insist that everyone show up to the office like it was before, perhaps fearing that something would be lost otherwise. Maybe it’s productivity, maybe its ‘company culture’, maybe its the insecurity of not seeing employees as they ‘do work’ all day. Standing counter to this notion are numerous studies conducted both during the lockdown phases and after on companies that were forced to implement WFH because of government mandate but have diverged in their abolishment or continued allowance for remote working. Surprise surprise, most if not all of these point to a legitimately measurable - often significant - improvement in overall employee happiness and productivity when allowed to work from home and/or implement flexible hours. You can look them up yourself but one example I’ll leave here is research done by Stanford University in California involving 16,000 workers in Shanghai conducted over 2 years that found a 13% increase in productivity and attrition rates dropping by a shocking 50%.   More pertinent to employers, they were able to save almost USD$2,000 per employee on rent by reducing office place at their HQ. However, a noteworthy twist here is that participants eventually wanted to return to the office after working from home 100% of the time due to too much isolation. Here’s Where Policymakers Step In Instead of promising more highways be built, introducing congestion charges to enter Kuala Lumpur, or giving us a gratuitous free RapidKL rail/bus rides for a month, the government could help kickstart the post-pandemic WFH movement by encouraging employers directly. It really wouldn’t take a lot of effort either, at least to start with. A simple educative statement in support of it would make clear where policymakers stand and from there incentives could be put in place to further gain traction. Given this will impact the country’s traffic woes - not to mention air pollution levels - directly, they are just as important as other initiatives such as recycling, the use of household solar panels, and KL’s car-free Sundays. Not Everyone Can WFH And That’s Fine Where during the pandemic the working population were, within a brief and disruptive window, forced to make adjustments to work from home while other occupational activities that explicitly require in-person involvement (such as construction) were halted altogether, the point here is not to repeat this transition. That said, even if increased support of WFH policies would result 20-30% percent fewer vehicles on the road at peak hours, that would be enough. However, for a large portion of the workforce that can perform their tasks from home just as effectively or more so, allowing them to do so without putting a lengthy commute in their way would be enough.

If you can’t take the car away from the Rakyat, try not making us have to rush into (and out of) the same place every morning and evening. How can it not work?

Does your life in some way come into contact with traffic congestion?
Do you live in or have to drive around the Klang Valley?
Come on now, you know it’s been on your mind too.
Wouldn’t it be better if everyone continued ‘working from home’ (WFH)?

If there was one thing positive about the several stints we, in Malaysia, spent in lockdown (MCO), it was the absence of congestion. Everyone pretty much stayed home and consequently the roads were free and made so by government order.

Surprisingly, the economy did not immediately crumble as the overwhelming majority of us took it upon ourselves to stay busy and ‘get on with it’. As an adaptation to avoid physical contact, WFH was something everyone around the world had to awkwardly stumble into.

Suddenly everyone had to dust off that unused laptop webcam and make do with looking good from the waist up over a Zoom call. Making sure your kids or cat or dog or an explosion did not interrupt you during a remote meeting became the only real concern, not traffic jams, lane hoggers, slow drivers, random honks, finding a parking spot, and the probability of getting anywhere late.

Can’t Have Traffic If There’s Nowhere To Be

That’s just straight facts. If the majority or even some significant percentage of the country’s workforce did not have to show up at and leave the office at some arbitrary time (say, 9am-5pm), traffic congestion would just disappear.

Nobody voluntarily gets themselves stuck in traffic, but we put up with it because of silly expectation as an employee. Think about it, would you subject yourself and your car to gridlock if you were the boss?

Anyone and everyone can cite as many arguments about Malaysia’s (the Klang Valley in particular) terrible road condition, the spaghetti abomination that is our intra-city road and highway network, the costs of tolls. There’s plenty of criticise, obviously.

Unfortunately, solving any of those issues is going to take years if not decades, and that’s assuming the deployed remedy isn’t the usual stop-gaps and short-term patch jobs we’re used to seeing.

But What About Productivity?

Commuting is a waste of time and energy that gets you exhausted even before you start actual ‘work’ each day. So why not cut it out of the equation all together instead of finding ways around it?

Traffic has been a bane of urban human existence for over a full century and one that we just can’t get around to solve. We expand our cities, our population grows larger, we make more advanced vehicles, construct elaborate public transportation systems, but things….well, they still suck.

However, the biggest hurdle to the adoption of WFH policies beyond the COVID-19 pandemic are employers themselves who insist that everyone show up to the office like it was before, perhaps fearing that something would be lost otherwise. Maybe it’s productivity, maybe its ‘company culture’, maybe its the insecurity of not seeing employees as they ‘do work’ all day.

Standing counter to this notion are numerous studies conducted both during the lockdown phases and after on companies that were forced to implement WFH because of government mandate but have diverged in their abolishment or continued allowance for remote working.

Surprise surprise, most if not all of these point to a legitimately measurable – often significant – improvement in overall employee happiness and productivity when allowed to work from home and/or implement flexible hours.

You can look them up yourself but one example I’ll leave here is research done by Stanford University in California involving 16,000 workers in Shanghai conducted over 2 years that found a 13% increase in productivity and attrition rates dropping by a shocking 50%.  

More pertinent to employers, they were able to save almost USD$2,000 per employee on rent by reducing office place at their HQ. However, a noteworthy twist here is that participants eventually wanted to return to the office after working from home 100% of the time due to too much isolation.

Here’s Where Policymakers Step In

Instead of promising more highways be built, introducing congestion charges to enter Kuala Lumpur, or giving us a gratuitous free RapidKL rail/bus rides for a month, the government could help kickstart the post-pandemic WFH movement by encouraging employers directly.

It really wouldn’t take a lot of effort either, at least to start with.

A simple educative statement in support of it would make clear where policymakers stand and from there incentives could be put in place to further gain traction. Given this will impact the country’s traffic woes – not to mention air pollution levels – directly, they are just as important as other initiatives such as recycling, the use of household solar panels, and KL’s car-free Sundays.

Not Everyone Can WFH And That’s Fine

Where during the pandemic the working population were, within a brief and disruptive window, forced to make adjustments to work from home while other occupational activities that explicitly require in-person involvement (such as construction) were halted altogether, the point here is not to repeat this transition.

That said, even if increased support of WFH policies would result 20-30% percent fewer vehicles on the road at peak hours, that would be enough. However, for a large portion of the workforce that can perform their tasks from home just as effectively or more so, allowing them to do so without putting a lengthy commute in their way would be enough.

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