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The Future of Flexible Office Economy

 

  • The beginning of the flexible office economy
  • The road ahead

 

Over the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all types of businesses to adapt to functioning with remote workforces. The irruption has the potential to re-shape work practices, interaction preferences and attitudes toward technology for decades to come. Having said that, the current situation of remote working for many employees is far from ideal as many people are juggling with family and work responsibilities under the same roof. With day care and schools closed, and internet providers overwhelmed by accelerated visitors, working from home has left a foul taste in many people’s mouths. However, the real question is how this can change the conventional way of working in the long run.

However, “Work from Home” does not fully comprehend with what is really happening to the workforce currently, instead, “Work from Anywhere” could become more appropriate going forward. At this moment, working from anywhere is not an option as coronavirus keeps most individuals at home. But in the long-term, a truly flexible workplace will be one where employees will have the option to work in the atmosphere of their choice, whether that be at home, the native coffee shop, a hotel, or maybe their old office that they have attended before the pandemic. Flexibility also means changing out schedules to accommodate the requirements of each working day. Apart from technology, working from home will redefine the conventional working of 9-5 for many companies. If in normal routine, trust, and productive delivery of work from home will have further progressed and established, and thus traditional working hours will have no option but to change.

The need for teams to spend time together will always be an essential part of work. However, we will find that for certain teams, their dependency on the office will be reduced, and some employees would want to continue working from home on a regular basis. This is likely to make people more deliberate about when and why they go to the office. Irrespective, companies will still need to make their offices a preferred destination. The new patterns around office occupation will likely mean that organisations re-think their space needs, consider alternative work styles, leveraging effective online meeting practices, help to speed up work cycles and make workers more productive.

CBRE’s recent research predicts that “the end of fixed workplace attendance will unlock productivity growth and personal creativity” and that “nearly all employees will be mobile and require a network of locations to make them as productive and engaged as possible.” This prediction does not indicate that the office will become obsolete; rather, we are reconsidering the role of the central office for the future. However, there is a hybrid model that is rarely known – one that includes flexible workspaces along with office. Importantly, distant work does not exclusively mean “work from home,” in the same way that flexible workspace does not totally mean coworking.

In modern-day, employees want more optionality and flexibility from employers. Almost every job function in many office spaces can be done remotely through technology, at least to some extent. While every function cannot be done remotely, most companies have been impressed with the level of productivity they have seen from their staff during this difficult time. In just the past few weeks, many large corporations like Morgan Stanley, Mondelez, Twitter, and Nationwide have made bold statements about a permanent shift to work from home and reducing office space.

One of the “Big Four" accounting organizations, Deloitte released a survey in the first quarter of 2020 (pre-COVID), that observed most professionals take advantage of adaptable work choices despite apparent results to proficient development. The study found that work flexibility was important to employees’ professional and personal wellbeing. While the pandemic has brought record-high unemployment through no fault of some capable individuals, we can expect that when the economy cycles back upward, the war for talent will be stronger than ever, with higher expectations than before. We could foresee that companies that provide an option for workplace will be set for greater success in the future. In addition, new employee demands, including work/life integration and a de-prioritization of geographic proximity, which are likely to drive future employment decisions.

Decentralization will be a key topic coming out of the COVID-19 crisis. Different companies will apportion their portfolio management strategies in various methods, based upon their own unique needs and existing lease obligations. We expect portfolio management strategies will include some combination of a Hub & Spoke Model where Hub will be a central location for a percentage of employees to work full time while managing responsibilities such as people development, culture creation, as well as serving as the focal point for internal collaboration and engagement and “Spoke” would be various alternatives such as flexible workspaces (Coworking, Executive Suites, etc.) and work from home, whether partial or full time. Not everybody likes to work from home, but many would enjoy the opportunity to work near home.

Eventually, many employees will be asked to come back to the office full or part-time. Those companies who have appropriately equipped their employees with the tools and resources to be productive remotely are not forcing people to be back to their workplace. They have realized that mass returns to the office is not important in these unsettling times. It is also serving as a way for businesses to live their values by putting people at the forefront of decision-making, reducing any anxiety around resuming to public spaces and transit.

As we emerge from this global remote work experiment, we are witnessing the demand for flexible solutions increasing as large employers have begun to announce their post-pandemic real estate strategies. The supply side of the flexible office economy may have a period of recalibration as certain spaces and offerings will need to be modified to adapt to occupiers’ workplace strategy expectations post-pandemic.

Now is the time where all the organizations should reassess and embrace the opportunity of remote working. Employees are the most vital component of any successful business and almost always the major expense item for any corporation. Employers who embrace remote work, whether partial or full time, will find that today they have a far deeper talent pool to tap into for recruitment, while also noticing an increase in employee retention. Employees may become even more loyal as they can achieve a work-life integration aligned with their personal demands, which may result in increased happiness and overall productivity if properly managed.

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