The year 2020 has been eventful, to say the least. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended work and office life, becoming a powerful catalyst for workplace change.
According to JLL’s Asia Pacific (APAC) “Home and Away” report, conducted at the height of COVID-19 in June, an average of 68 percent of employees surveyed in the region worked from home at the time. Now, with many offices in the region opened or starting to open, how will employees feel when they walk into the workplace again?
Will they be rejoicing or struggling with collaborating in-person again? Or, will they still opt to work from home if given a choice? What does this all mean for the role of the office in our daily lives?
Remote work will become a lot more commonplace, but the office is far from dead
In the same survey, 61 percent of the same respondents working remotely said they missed going to the office and would favor a hybrid model combining more flexible work arrangements in the future.
In the past, for a lot of companies in this region, the assumption has been that many jobs cannot be carried out unless you are physically in the office. We have not seen many deliberate efforts to develop a culture and environment that are remote work friendly. However, this pandemic has shifted employers’ perceptions, and some corporate cultures have become more accepting of remote working.
That said, working from home does not present a sustainable and optimal long-term solution for all corporates. In APAC, working from home is less effective for most people. Some must struggle with smaller apartment sizes, multi-generational families, or poor internet connectivity – factors that affect the APAC region to a greater degree.
In Singapore, we found that 54 percent of local respondents missed the office while working from home. Young people, including millennials, have found it easier than all age groups to work from home because they embrace technology, but they are also the group that most wants to return to the office. Why? Because the office is an extension of their personal lives. They want to get that sense of belonging and community back, which a remote home environment cannot offer.
Emotional engagement is at risk, giving rise to a new employer-employee relationship
With the overnight shift to working from home, we cannot expect companies to keep functioning the way that they always have. While technologies have enabled collaboration and kept the lights on, we have started to see how the impact of working remotely is impacting company culture. This is manifesting very specifically through the social ties that people maintain with their colleagues and their sense of connection and inclusion, being part of a bigger purpose, and even trust.
For businesses around the world, attracting and retaining talent is the number one factor driving success. People are what makes a business successful, and a fantastic working environment is what makes them stick around.
What has been done in the past is to organize work in a way that has always been quite transactional, and the employee has not had much say. Our “Human Experience” report conducted in October found that in APAC, the crisis has driven employees to rethink their priorities and given them a renewed focus on the quality of life, human interaction, and personal values. Work-life balance (71%) has overtaken securing a comfortable salary (69%) in terms of importance post-pandemic.
This requires employers to adapt to these evolving needs and demands to attract and retain future talent. As we start to see work increasingly integrated into our home lives, we're going to have to reimagine the employee-employer relationship. This means being more engaged and showing more care for the workforce. A company creates value in the world, and its corporate mission and purpose have been built into workplaces, and, by extension, this change in the relationship will herald new real estate decisions. The office will be reimagined – as a social hub, as an irreplaceable source of human connection and inspiration, and a place where conditions are ripe for innovation.
The renewed purpose of space
Post-pandemic, physical workplaces will be more important than ever, and will simply embrace a different role and purpose than they once had. They will be reinvented to leverage the best of in-person and remote work. At this stage, major occupiers are telling us that they are planning 82 desks per 100 employees, versus 91 desks per 100 employees pre-pandemic.
From the employee perspective, our “Human Experience” report noted that APAC respondents would delight in having access to: advanced food services like wider food choices (76%), well-being and health services (both at 75%), followed by sports services (68%) and services that “make life easy” (65%). In addition, the top three spaces that would significantly boost one’s experience in the office are spaces dedicated to focus work (like concentration pods or telephone booths), socialization, and learning and development spaces.
The future of work, workforce, and workplace will be different from what we used to know. Flexibility, variety, and the choice will be paramount to employees, but so will opportunities to switch off – which can be hard to do when working from home. The biggest takeaway from the pandemic is that the future can be anything. The best decision that any company can make is to plan for all forms of reality. It’s not one future of work we should be preparing for – it’s the future of work.