The era of COVID-19: Navigating the future of workplace

August 14, 2020 08:05
Photo: Reuters

The COVID-19 pandemic caused companies across the globe to adapt the new, remote working model to ensure employees’ wellness and safety.

The office will continue to be important for many companies and workers, and the benefits of an office environment - such as training, mentorship, and collaborations - remain as essential as ever for partnerships and connections when companies are focusing on economic recovery and returning to its growth momentum. In fact, in a research titled “The art of managing the business uncertainty: a future of work study for Greater China” conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit and commissioned by WeWork, the study reveals that remote working is here to stay. Workers will return to their offices as the pandemic crisis recedes, but working remotely is likely to be much more commonplace. More than three-quarters of respondent firms (76%) plan to implement work-from-home and work-from-anywhere practices during the next 12 months, leveraging capabilities such as cloud computing and mobility technology.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, businesses of all sizes are looking for flexible space solutions, including private offices, swing spaces, and hot desks. Yet not all employers have the resources, financial or otherwise, to quickly implement a flexible workspace model that stretches across the city. The pandemic has accelerated the shift to flexible workspaces, with businesses of all sizes looking to manage cash-flows effectively by moving costs to a variable model. Space as a service is a huge opportunity for them to free up cash with the safe and flexible workspaces.

Flexibility, Scalability and Speed are Key

Social distancing comes with a demand for more office space, not less. CEOs of companies of all sizes, ranging from pharmaceutical to financial - digital and technology, shared that flexibility is what they need to bring employees back to work in a safe and staggered way. Some of the companies are looking for multiple workplace options, so that they can house employees across different locations as part of their business continuity plan (BCP) for the long-run. In the new work normal, the way of how employees work, and business operate changes fundamentally. It's now all about having the scalability, flexibility, and speed to address their needs. In the study, 42% of respondents said will they “reorganize their workspace”, which includes redesigning, consolidating or moving offices or other work locations.

The Future of the Workplace

While working from home has brought a great deal of convenience, it has also highlighted issues ranging from the lack of conducive workspace, distractions at home to decreased morale. Remote working as an option will be and should be encouraged as we ease back into operations, but it is beyond just working from home and rather how companies can support employees with the empowerment of space and professional distancing.

In terms of space, employees will need to feel safe when they are in the office. This means creating space to spread out and ensuring clean and sanitary work conditions. This means “de-densified” office space with “professional distancing” that is in line with guidelines from local health authorities. This includes considering the appropriate square footage per employee and adjusting desks to ensure a safe distance between each employee.

On the geographical side, companies need to consider having multiple workspaces in the same vicinity to support their segregated workforce, e.g. alternate staffing or having or setting up their HQ in one building and have supporting functions in other locations in each market.

In certain markets, such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore and Seoul, companies will also start to explore a hub-and-spoke model of workspace: To reduce commutes for employees, company footprints will need to be dispersed, with office locations spread across cities to meet people closer to home. Companies and organizations have a centralized “hub” office with dispersed “spoke” offices across the city in neighborhoods where employees live, and co-working space is one of the options that businesses can consider so as to leverage the advantages of the extensive network across different locations to turn this “hub-and-spoke” model into reality.

Under the new work normal brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is of utmost importance for enterprises to thoroughly understand the needs of the workforce nowadays and how their way of work has been reshaped, so as to turn the challenges into opportunities and fully embrace the potentials in this challenging time.

-- Contact us at [email protected]


General Manager, WeWork Greater China