Keeping up with the ‘New Normal’ – Reshaping Malaysia

By Edward Loy, MD Malaysia, KONE Corporation

With the promise of a vaccine around the corner, Malaysians are harbouring hopes of a regular and normal society to slowly resume. While we wait with bated breath, it hasn’t stopped us from embracing the new normal that was made possible due to the once unfamiliar order of telecommuting. This digitalisation combined with safety measures set in place by the government, and many organisations in Malaysia and globally, has helped get the livelihoods of many Malaysians back on track.

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, more than 33.5 percent of companies have been ‘working from home’ since April 2020, as employee safety and cost reductions became key priorities. Whilst some workers have easily adapted to this lifestyle, others are still finding it a challenge.  Experts are seeing an increase in mental health issues as stress levels rise and workdays seemingly becoming.  Weekdays tend to blur into weekends especially with the concept of working from home remaining as the default option for a majority of organisations. 

The pandemic has recalibrated everything: Work, Life and Play. As Covid-19 cases rise in the community, the Malaysian government has been forced to bring back the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) and reminding everyone of the need to keep a physical distance from each other.  Before easing restrictions and allowing people flow across Malaysia, it is of utmost importance to follow safe-distancing measures to curb the sudden spike in the number of cases. Reopening the economy and allowing people to move seamlessly as before is top priority for Malaysia, but with strict enforcement of rules and physical distancing measures. 

How should society cope as we move to focus on livelihoods beyond the pandemic?

Reshaping the Future of Work and People Flow

With many organisations forced to fast track their digital transformation agenda to boost their work from home capabilities, work today has been made more fluid and interconnected. This is seen through the rise in adoption of digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation, Internet of Things etc. However, as we progressively adapt to new working models and integrated technologies to support remote working, working from home may just be a temporary solution to tide over the pandemic. 

The physical work environment will continue to play an irreplaceable role in facilitating face-to-face interactions; core to building lasting relationships and fostering deep collaboration. Whilst more employees may have the option to work from home on a semi-regular basis in the near future, the potential decline in working from the office will pose as a chance to rethink the concept of future offices and people flow as the number of workers commuting to and from the city changes. 

The post-pandemic era calls for open-plan offices to be redesigned and office cultures redefined.  All this with a common denominator — flexibility. Businesses need to re-think “compact offices” and decongest office spaces, while taking into consideration new social distancing norms. Beyond social distancing, health, wellness and socialising will become an intrinsic part of the long-term re-architecture of our workplaces. Elements of hospital and healthcare design such as disinfection infrastructure and air-conditioning technologies like High-efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that kill bacteria and viruses will have to be incorporated to ensure higher and predictable levels of cleanliness. 

Additional space in offices means more specialised areas can be built to foster greater collaboration to boosting productivity. New office spaces will involve decisions around where these workspaces should be located. With people-flow decreasing in the central business district area and with an eye on decongesting public transportation during peak hours, we will probably see businesses and commercial activities decentralise and spread out. 

Post-pandemic decentralisation in Malaysia

As a reaction to the impact of the pandemic, we will continue to see several waves of change, and a new ‘back-to-work’ is just the first. With shifting line of sight in work arrangements and social interactions, Malaysia needs to rethink its urban development to include new greater decentralisation efforts and density management.

Decentralising urban communities would entail considering elements, including sustainability and the environment. Indeed, Covid-19, as well as the threat of other viruses, has definitely shed light on the criticality of proper urban planning and design—and this is where decentralisation is seen to reduce the point of failure that makes centralised systems vulnerable.

Real transformation is enabled through conversations, engagement and building trust. More open discussions with Malaysians should also be developed, allowing them to play an integral role on how living spaces can be best built to suit their needs, and create an efficient and productive space for them to live, work and play in. This ensures that evolving end user needs are matched alongside future smart city developments. This will be the new normal and we need to be prepared to reimagine, reshape and rebuild the future of Malaysia’s smart urban development.

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