Future Thinking Workspaces – How Will The Post COVID-19 Office Change?

October 5, 202010:11 am558 views
Future Thinking Workspaces – How Will The Post COVID-19 Office Change?
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Paperspace Asia, the Singapore-based workplace interior design collective, has revealed their findings of its new research examining the impact of COVID-19 on the future of the workplace on 10 September 2020. “Workplace Adaptation – Your New ‘Agile’” is a survey of nearly 500 employees and interviews with 25 C-suite business leaders across Singapore, Thailand, The Philippines and India. The research sheds light on how employees feel about returning to the workspace, as well as changes to the way they work and the physical office space.

These insights aim to shape solutions to bolster workspace resilience in an uncertain future. As territories across Asia Pacific continue to move in and out of lockdown, the employees surveyed shared their top three concerns around returning from home working to the physical office were:

  • Their safety in returning to the office environment. 98 percent of respondents ranked this factor as ‘fairly important’, ‘important’ and ‘very important’, with 75 percent ranking this as ‘very important’.
  • The ability of their company to continue to support flexible working arrangements, alongside a return to the office, was ranked by a further 99 percent as ‘fairly important’ and above, and by 66 percent as ‘very important’. 
  • Support given by their manager (in terms of being understanding to the circumstance and providing solutions) while navigating this challenging period and a return to the office, highlighted by 96 percent as ‘fairly important’ and above, and by 62 percent as ‘very important’. 

With work-from-home the mandated default amid the pandemic, respondents in Singapore shared they have been able to adapt well, enjoying the flexibility remote working offers, with 85 percent saying they are able to concentrate on work tasks well at home. However, while 97 percent still believe the office is crucial for connecting effectively with colleagues, they no longer expect to be in the office full-time. In line with the overall APAC sentiment, 98% of the respondents stated maintaining flexible working arrangements was a top priority when they are able to return to the office.

“The impact of COVID-19 calls on us to pause and reflect on how our workplaces can do more than fulfill new safety guidelines. Sentiment from employees and employers who took part in our research revealed the desire for a substantial and lasting change in the way we work, leading to a fundamental shift in how we utilise physical office space. By designing dynamic offices which put people’s needs, such as safety and well-being, before space, not only can we take this chance to adhere to short-term regulations, we would also be able to nurture a motivated and engaged workforce for the long-term. This will set companies apart in the war for talent, ” said Narita Cheah, co-founder and director of Paperspace Asia.

When asked about the eventual return to the workplace, employee respondents said they expected the role of the office to be considerably different to pre-COVID-19. “The downside (of working from home) is the lack of face-to-face interaction with colleagues…I would be happy to return to the office when there is a need for in-person meetings and for social gatherings.” Respondents also foresee the amount of time spent physically in office would change: “(When we can return) I imagine working from home for three to four days and from the office for one to two days,” said one respondent.

Results of the qualitative interviews with senior management from companies across APAC emphasised the importance of the office, but there was also an acceptance the office of the future would look very different. Senior leaders felt working from home had impacted the flow of creativity and collaboration between teams, with one leader commenting, “We’ve always had the capability to work remotely, but we miss those incidental conversations and the creativity that comes out of it.” 

However, once COVID-19 restrictions allow for employees to return to the office, leaders are conscious that the workplace now needs to better facilitate interaction with “less allocated desks and more collaborative settings” and “more multi-purpose and flexible workspaces”. Another believed the future workplace would be “a place for people to go in, group, quickly strategise, and leave,” suggesting that even employers consider the traditional nine-to-five employees spent at the workplace, to no longer be the norm.

Narita concluded: “Although we have figured out how to work apart after months of remote working, our results showed there are elements of working together in an office remote simply cannot replicate. Despite varying cultures, behaviours and government mandates, one thing is for certain – putting together the “post-pandemic office” goes well beyond installing hand sanitiser pumps. At Paperspace Asia, we strongly recommend working through a three-pronged approach: putting people before space, building nimble, purposeful workspaces and testing solutions prior to implementation. With this, companies would be able to best build workspace resilience amidst an uncertain future.”

Read also: Close to One Third of Asia Pacific’s Remote and Firstline Workers are Facing Increased Burnout at Work: Microsoft Study