The Rise of Hybrid Work in Singapore and APAC, a Discussion with Paul MacAndrew of IWG

April 13, 202112:17 pm2921 views

The 9-to-5 office routine has traditionally been the most common work arrangement. In a post-Covid-19 world, however, the way we work is changing. While employees are enjoying greater flexibility by working from home, the challenges of not being physically present at the office remain. No wonder, nearly half of employees want a hybrid work model after the pandemic.

On this occasion, HR in Asia invites Paul MacAndrew, Country Manager for IWG in Singapore and Hong Kong to share his thoughts on the rise of flexi-work arrangements in the region. Read on..

Question: Paul, Coronavirus has sparked a revolution in the working-from-home (WFH) initiative. When the pandemic ends, do you think this trend will decrease dramatically too?

Answer: I think that the pandemic has not only sparked a revolution in the WFH initiative, but has also brought about a radical change in employee behaviour and mindsets – a trend that I foresee will have a long-lasting and profound impact on how we work in the years ahead, even after the pandemic is over.

Companies across the globe have discovered first-hand that their workforces could still be highly engaged and productive even when they are not working in the office, and employees have similarly recognised the benefits of WFH – such as having greater flexibility and control over their daily schedule. However, as WFH has also brought about its share of drawbacks, such as the blurring of boundaries between work and home, we expect businesses to instead be quick in embracing a hybrid model of working – an approach that provides a perfect balance between the traditional set-up, and the confined-to-home set-ups.

As a business, we have seen an increase in demand for our memberships, which allows people to drop into our network of locations and work closer to home rather than being home 100% of the time – by around 40% as compared to pre-Covid-19. Moreover, with big players such as Standard Chartered partnering with us to offer hybrid working services to their global workforce, and multinational corporations like Spotify announcing their plans in adopting flexible working measures, it is safe to say that the pandemic merely accelerated a trend that has been underway for several years – one that will not diminish anytime soon.

Question: About 8 out of 10 Singaporean workers wanted to have flexi work arrangements, but never expressed it openly to their bosses. Why should today’s leaders take flexible scheduling seriously?

Answer: While WFH has pushed people to deviate from the traditional way of working and move towards a more liberated working structure, we have seen that there are multiple downsides to homebound working – not just for employees’ productivity, but for their health and wellbeing.

According to a survey by the National University Health System Mind Science Centre, a whopping 61% of Singaporeans working from home reported facing higher stress levels compared to frontline workers during the height of the pandemic, given the multiple familial and professional responsibilities that have to be carried out – often at the same time. Moreover, flexible working has been considered by many to be the new norm for any business that is serious about productivity, agility, and winning the war for top talent. In fact, our research shows that 83% of workers around the world would turn down a job that did not offer flexible working.

I believe the statistics speak for itself – given how the WFH approach has evidently brought about adverse impacts on employees’ work-life balance, and the fact that flexible working arrangements are becoming increasingly popular as organisational and employee mindsets shift, business leaders should and must take flexible scheduling seriously – or risk being perceived as obsolete in the eyes of existing and potential employees.

Question: What is the outlook on the future of flexi-work in Singapore and Asia Pacific? Will it differ from other regions?

Answer: A return to the office will inevitably happen, but there is unlikely to be a full return to the status quo. The pandemic has reinvigorated the demand for flexible working across the globe, and businesses are now consistently looking to operate and innovate within the new normal. Moreover, with 61% of employees in Asia Pacific having reported to favour a hybrid work model combining flexible work arrangements in the future, I believe that such sentiments are similar in other regions around the world as well.

At IWG, we are already seeing an increasing number of firms move to a more decentralised structure, and are partnering with companies across all sizes to offer hybrid working services. This includes our deal with Standard Chartered to provide all of their 95,000 employees worldwide with the option of working in one of our flexible workspaces, as well as our latest signing with Japanese telecommunications group Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, where we will provide the company’s 300,000-strong workforce with access to our global network of workspaces.

Agile work strategies are expected to increase in a post-pandemic world, and businesses will inevitably have to adapt and meet the evolving employee demands and preferences when it comes to the way we work. Moreover, with our research showing that in the long-term, six in ten office workers want an office closer to home, and 77% say that a more conveniently located office is a must-have for their next job move, this shows that we can longer view flexible working as a ‘trend’.

Question: IWG said that hybrid work has become a new norm. What is the best way to manage this organisational shift towards implementing flexi-work arrangements?

Answer: Hybrid working has indeed become the new norm, and in our perspective, is here to stay. With Phase 3 of Singapore’s re-opening now in full effect, we are already seeing an increase in renewed interests and inquiries from occupiers of all sizes – whether they are SMEs, or large MNCs. This showcases an evident, and deliberate organisational shift towards a hybrid way of working – which only paves the way for an increase in demand for flexible workspace options.

To this end, we are working closely with companies to help their workforces adapt to these hybrid working arrangements, including providing them with our unique and flexible solutions to ensure that they have everything they need – from furniture and professional infrastructure, to the option of working in an IWG flexible workspace that is close to their homes, as well as shorter lease commitments to allow for ultimate flexibility amidst this fluid and ever-changing environment.

Question: Hybrid working patterns will be a large part of the future of real estate. Does it mean we will say goodbye to the traditional workplace setting?

Answer: Office life, along with the traditional workplace setting, has not only completely changed, but will also never return to the way it was pre-Covid-19. The pandemic has temporarily severed companies’ ties to the workplace, and has prompted many to rethink how they will use their office in the longer term – thus sparking the demand for hybrid and flexible working arrangements that we are currently seeing, and will continue to see in the foreseeable future.

Apart from the changes in employers’ and employees’ attitudes towards the modes of working, there are also more practical reasons that justify the reduced reliance on traditional workplace settings. For instance, while Singapore has re-entered Phase 3 of its reopening last December, authorities have reiterated that WFH or remote working arrangements should remain the default arrangement, so as to minimise the risk of COVID-19 community spread. This is reflected in other parts of the globe as well, as governments seek to stabilise COVID-19 cases and ensure the utmost safety for employees.

As such, with calls from the government urging employers to adjust their mindset and embrace telecommuting as the “new normal”, coupled with the rising demand for flexible workspaces, we can safely say that the hybrid way of working will continue to take precedence in the years to come.

With that said, we do recognise that there is a need for physical workspaces to build organisational culture. People would naturally come to miss the buzz of human interaction, as well as the shared energy and innovation that comes from bouncing off ideas with colleagues face-to-face. This is why the hybrid ‘hub-and-spoke’ model is emerging as the preferred way ahead for many businesses, as it helps employees have access to more than just one traditional way of working.

Question: We believe that hybrid work models are not for everyone. So, what points should be paid attention to when an organisation is planning to embrace flexibility and adopt this arrangement?

Answer: As you have rightfully mentioned, there is definitely no ‘one-size-fits-all’ hybrid work model. As we have seen through the biggest remote working experiment in history in the last year, almost all jobs can operate under a hybrid work arrangement. The exceptions are industries which involve physical or manual labour, as well as jobs that require use of fixed equipment such as machinery and manufacturing. Apart from the nature of the employees’ work and the specific jobs they perform, there are also several other factors that companies need to consider when implementing hybrid work models – including employee tenure or experience level, familial responsibilities, as well as mere preference.

However, as we believe that the hybrid work model will be an inevitable arrangement for many organisations moving forward, we are thus constantly innovating to help companies overcome these challenges. At our IWG, we ensure that we provide companies and their workforces with everything they need to work in the way that best suits them – from offering convenient locations to incorporating industry-leading technology so that teams can collaborate better and more seamlessly.

We are, however, under no illusions that challenges lie ahead in the near term, and difficulties will arise for companies when implementing hybrid working arrangements. The return to the office will, in no doubt, be staggered, but we will continue to support our customers in transitioning every step of the way.

Question: How can flexible workspace solutions better serve companies and employees?

Answer: As businesses look towards implementing hybrid work arrangements, offering flexible workspace solutions that provide employees with a safe and conducive environment to work in would not only help the company meet evolving employee preferences and demands, but also avoid hampering productivity at the same time.

There are a host of benefits both the employer and employee would gain from flexible workspace solutions. Employees would be able to better balance work-life priorities and commuting costs would be reduced drastically, while businesses would also be able to rapidly flex up and down in terms of the space they use, therefore, causing fewer anxieties during difficult, busy times. We have also seen how businesses that opt for a fully-equipped workspace often note an immediate halving of their property costs – releasing capital to invest in generating stakeholder value.

This is why at IWG, we have remained at the forefront of enabling and providing flexible workspaces, and are consistently ensuring that our workspaces are well-equipped with professional IT infrastructure and one-site support staff – all as part of efforts to ensure the best possible working experience for those that work at our spaces. As reiterated by our CEO Mark Dixon, hybrid working is here to stay – and we will continue to help offer the flexibility and convenience of workplace solutions that are welcomed by all.

About Paul

Paul MacAndrew is the Country Manager of Hong Kong and Singapore at IWG (the International Workplace Group), a global operator of leading workspace providers including Regus, Spaces, HQ, Signature by Regus, and No18. Based in Hong Kong, Paul is responsible for defining the strategic direction of the IWG business in Hong Kong and Singapore, and oversees his team in maximising operating profit and strengthening internal operational capabilities.

With over 15 years of leading country- and regional-level operations across Asia and the UK, Paul brings to the table an intimate understanding of what it takes to thrive in the flexible workspace industry.

Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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