It’s worth taking notice when one of Malaysia’s largest organisations decides that the future workplace lies in a hybrid workforce. Jerene Ang and Priya Sunil find out all about it – starting with how it began, in an interview with Datuk Nora Manaf, Group Chief Human Capital Officer, Maybank.

To read the full interview, where Datuk Nora also shares exactly who is involved in this transition, and how productivity and performance improved as a result of the efforts, simply create a login account at the link below - your first five articles are absolutely complimentary!


In 2013, Maybank formalised its flexible work arrangement (FWA) policy, as part of efforts to help its employees achieve work-life integration, whilst boosting quality performance. To date, over 3,000 employees have been placed on FWAs.

Datuk Nora Manaf, Group Chief Human Capital Officer, Maybank (pictured above), reflects: “In fact, our very first work-from-home case was back in 2011 way before we formalised a policy. It was just something we had to do for a talented key retention who was facing a personal crisis. This arrangement remains in line with our talent management strategy whereby we believe giving employees the flexibility will help increase our employees’ productivity as well as help retain talent.”

Datuk Nora and her team believe that having an FWA is crucial to creating a harmonious work environment that is responsive to the changing professional needs of today’s workforce. As part of the programme, employees are provided options such as the flexibility of staggered hours, individualised start and end times of each work day, telecommuting, and reduced hours – part of which are now incorporated into the Bank’s mobile work arrangement.

“We also introduced our GO Ahead. Take Charge! (TC) platform, made up of four pillars of Reskill & Redeploy, Flex In, Flex Out (Flexible work arrangements), and Entrepreneur, which helps our employees adapt and be agile in a changing digital workplace where physical locations and boundaries are no longer hindrances to effective communication, collaboration and productivity,” shares Datuk Nora.

All this progress boded well for Maybank at the height of the pandemic in 2020, when Malaysia enforced the Movement Control Order (MCO) on 18 March. Within a week, the Bank had facilitated a default arrangement to have employees work from home and only be on-site if necessary, even though banking was categorised as an essential service.

With intense facilitation, we even reached 82% of our Malaysian workforce working from home from the initial 80% on-site, as we were committed to being a responsible member of society, preserving the lives and health of everyone within and around us – paramount to our objectives and focus.

Further efforts that the Bank has undertaken include:

Mobile Work Arrangement (MWA)

As a start, the team identified selected Maybank Malaysia employees for this arrangement, which formalised the remote working policy, on a permanent basis for jobs/roles that can be done from home. The Bank also provides flexibility for employees whose jobs/roles are not dependent on the Bank’s system, to apply for the MWA.

As of May 2021, the Bank has successfully onboarded about 2,559 mobile employees (6% from the whole Group’s workforce) across all sectors and working levels in the Bank (28% Front, 18% Middle and 54% Back office).

The Maybank Office now comprises a blended arrangement with employees working in the office, at split locations and working from home. “We continue to recognise diversity and inclusivity in all of our people practices as there are employees who thrive with the flexibility of working from home.”

‘Crowdtivation’ - an internal gig market platform

Datuk Nora says:

For us at Maybank, the workplace of the future is envisioned to be boundary-less and structure-less. Yet at the same time, it allows for human connection, letting people understand who they work for, what the core values and culture of Maybank are, and setting a stage for a more collaborative, transparent, respectful and responsible workplace.

This is translated into the Bank's internal gig market platform – ‘Crowdtivation’ as well as external gigs. The platform acts as a gig workforce space for Maybankers to learn, collaborate and experiment with innovative solutions to everyday business problems in a Sandbox environment (a testing environment).

Launched in 2019, Maybank’s internal gigs are accessible across the Group for employees of various levels and roles (not limited by country, sector, function or unit). About 10% of the workforce has since joined in. Employees can opt into this gig work arrangement – to showcase their hidden talents and connect with Maybankers across the Group.

“In times of rapid technological change, Maybank is doing its best to equip all Maybankers to be agile, responsive, and relevant for both our people and our customers.”

Personalised, diverse and inclusive: The thought process behind the move

According to Datuk Nora, the FWA was designed with the intention to create personalised flexible conditions that was diverse yet inclusive, knowing that workforce composition, management and workplace environment all need to be reviewed in order to continue to be a high performing organisation. The arrangement thus enables the Bank to balance its objectives of achieving a “highly productive, harmonious” work environment that is responsive to the changing professional and personal needs of today’s workforce.

“For us, being future-ready was already a way of life even before the pandemic, inclusive of establishing a more diverse and inclusive workforce and policies. And we had long planted the seeds of being agile through our Agility@Work initiative several years ago, where our employees were involved in over 60 projects across the Bank – promoting speed, agility and ensuring expertise is delivered in focused areas.”

To augment this, the Bank rolled out the FutureReady (FR) Digital Upskilling Programme back in 2018, to not only reskill, but also to embed the digital mindset necessary to flourish in these times. It focuses on realising the impact employees’ digital skills can have on the business. Additionally, the team focuses on digital skill sets that can change how employees learn and work, as well as how they work as an organisation, while also developing targeted upskilling programmes for key skill areas.

Fast forward to today, business continuity measures are in place, and have played a role in the design of the MWA.

We recognise that everyone thrives in different environments – the world’s greatest and biggest experiment (WFH) was a learning process for all of us.

"Some employees work best when they are able to successfully balance work and other aspects of their lives; at different stages in their lives they will have varying responsibilities outside of work - working parents may require the added flexibility in being with family but at the same time focusing on work differently, for example. So, we strive our best to ensure our employees’ needs are met and fulfilled in order for them to perform at their best.”

And - as Datuk Nora points out - there is unmet potential for work flexibility; it enables employee availability, enhances productivity and ensures they remain relevant in a tech-driven world.

More than that, Maybank wants to create a work environment that attracts diverse talent. Reflecting that, its FWA scope is diverse too; it covers a fixed flexible schedule, flex time, telecommuting/flexible work location, and reduced hours/converting to part-time employment.

To further support its mobile workforce (with about 2,000+ employees onboarded since September last year), the Bank extends its existing Flexi points benefits to also cover utilities bill, broadband and computer purchase to ensure that employees are working from home comfortably as they would be in the office. Additionally, Maybank also provides staff mobile loan of up to RM10,000 to facilitate the necessities for workspace arrangement ergonomics and conduciveness of working from home, and to continue being highly productive from home. As a humanising employer, the Bank also recently announced a one-off laptops contribution to enable employees’ children continue schooling through online learning, under the current pandemic. This support is inclusive of data connectivity subsidy of RM50 per month for a period of 1 year.

Maybank also took into consideration employees’ adjustments and learning during the early stage of the pandemic up until now, with the launch of its weekly #LearningNeverStops programme in early March 2020. This helps employees stay focused on positivity and productivity, in addition to sustaining their upskilling and reskilling efforts during the movement restrictions while empowering them to continue learning from anywhere.

Datuk Nora explains: “It is a go-to platform to access educational insights and a wide choice of capability-building programmes delivered by industry and internal subject-matter experts. There were close to 14,000 employees who registered for various learning activities within a month of the programme’s roll-out. By end of 2020, at least 31,425 unique learners had registered.”

Overcoming the odds along the way

Similar to the well-known misconceptions of remote work, Datuk Nora notes there was a perception back in 2013, that people on FWAs may be, more often than not, seen as less hardworking than their peers, regardless of their work quality and outcomes.

“Right now, for us at Maybank, productivity is defined by the output but back then number of hours was defined as an output. Conventionally, work is defined by the hours and how the previous industrial revolution has put all of us in one place for better efficiency and effectiveness.”

Further, some stakeholders had expressed concerns regarding trust and isolation issues for people who work from home. On this, the team “communicated clearly on the expectations whilst on FWA, including a focus on delivering the best work outcomes, and ensuring the department’s or unit’s goals are met – despite not being in the office at all times.”

Ultimately, this paid off well when WFH became a default during the pandemic, following the MCO measures taken. The Bank continued to “trend within a healthy 80% range through to late April 2020 and maintained high WFH levels of above 50% until well after the easing of movement restrictions.” Maybank was in fact one of the earliest to scrutinise its safety, business continuity and crisis plans carefully, and build awareness across the organisation, Datuk Nora adds.

From early 2020, all activities went virtual where possible, while continuing to engage all stakeholders. “Our pivot to virtual platforms for our talent attraction, recruitment and retention programmes include being one of the first, if not the first to organise virtual interview rooms, launching #DefytoDefine, a two-month virtual recruitment campaign as well as organising the Maybank Digital Race 2020. We continued to hire and on-board over 200 individuals in the first two months of MCO and continued to do so as our virtual induction programme received good feedback from new joiners.”

Meanwhile, as the pandemic raged on, the need for work redesign heightened as managing safety risks at the workplace meant adopting remote work practices as the norm. This meant identifying essential on-site tasks, reallocating staff and working out rotations, while enabling the majority of the employees to work from home - while doing so in the shortest time possible. The Bank also implemented strict SOPs for employees and premises, including physical distancing, usage of Personal Protection Equipment, health monitoring, travel declarations, and deferment of all events (including trainings) requiring physical attendance.

“The pandemic definitely accelerated our FWA policy and subsequently our MWA. The policy later evolved into the more robust and future-ready MWA policy. The MWA enabled an employee’s greater flexibility to deliver value from home or other Bank-approved secured locations. Thus, during these times of COVID-19, it was a critical move in line with our business continuity management to ensure safety of our employees and the community at large.”

Beyond the pandemic, the MWA is ultimately designed for the futurisation of the workforce and workplace, she affirms.

It is about a change in how we think about work – where work is not anchored to one place and time, but very much focused on outcomes.

Learning to adapt away from a ‘one-size-fits-all' approach

Undoubtedly, every experience is an opportunity to learn something – what works well, what doesn’t, how to better cater to individual employees’ needs, and more.

In line with that, Maybank sees its MWA as more than just a policy – it is about a review on the workforce system in totality. “We believe that the one-size-fits-all management models and techniques need to change.”

For one, recognising that some employees thrive with the flexibility of working from home while some prefer a more structured environment, the ‘Maybank Office’ will take shape in different settings to provide optimal arrangements for all, Datuk Nora explains. “We designed our ‘Management Model’ (not 100% remote) where employees can agree on a preferred work schedule with managers.”

She adds:

We learnt that we actually accomplished more tasks remotely without a significant drop in productivity or quality even from the onset and there is better and deeper collaboration. We are getting towards being more virtual-ready/future-ready.

Seeing how virtual interactions have driven more innovation, the Bank has set up a dedicated technical support to provide remote services to employees around collaboration tools and enablement.

Lastly, Datuk Nora points out the importance of considering all aspects of fitness (mental, emotional, physical, financial & performance), to ensure that employees stay productive, motivated and engaged whilst acing this new work arrangement. Any negligence of one of the fitness aspects, she adds, will result in employees feeling disconnected, isolated and unproductive. For instance, Maybank employees benefit from personalised support from Customer Experience Managers (CX Managers) and Staff Emergency Support geared for acing this new normal.

Concluding her learnings, Datuk Nora shares: “Maybank espoused the WFH framework and believes that WFH’s future is now as it complements other official arrangements. This hybrid way of working will provide diverse opportunities and a means for business continuity for the modern workforce comprising remote and on-site employees.

“Allowing our employees to work from home for the long-term makes for a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine how the Bank runs its business. Recognising the diversity of people in the workforce and facilitating inclusivity will unlock higher productivity potential.”

How have the FWAs impacted overall productivity and the business?

“Our flexible work arrangements are about a change in how we think about work – where work is not anchored to one place and time, but very much focused on outcomes,” shares Datuk Nora.

To track ROI of the FWAs, the team maintains a close eye on its complete People Dashboard, which includes increasing revenue per staff and PPOP per staff cost. “As announced in our FY20 results, despite COVID-19, we maintained our profitability while our workforce was working from home.”

Apart from employees being able to reach their targets, and accomplishing more tasks remotely without a significant drop in productivity or quality, Maybank saw further benefits in the form of better collaboration.

Our Internal Vacancy Realisation Rate remained the highest in 2020 amidst the pandemic at 87%; which was followed by reduced total resignations compared to the previous year. We also had high engagement for our learning programme - #LearningNeverStops with a total learning hours of 380,000.”

Also notable is that despite the disruptions from COVID-19, Maybank has been able to maintain employee retention, consistent with that of previous years. Maybank also has integrated remuneration plans aligned with the Bank’s strategy, culture and our core values, which seek to reward employees fairly for their contributions to the organisations as well as retain them.

Stay tuned for the second part of this two-part feature where Datuk Nora shares how Maybank is growing its mobile workforce, placing greater priority on wellbeing, and more.


Photo / Provided

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