According to CBRE’s 2017 Asia Pacific Occupier Survey, global economic uncertainty and a focus on cost savings are prompting MNCs to proactively adopt workplace strategies. About 50% of MNCs will invest more in their workplace strategy and space efficiency programmes, ranking that as their main priority for the coming year.

Corporations across Asia- Pacific are making the realignment of workplace strategy a business priority. They are evaluating the longer-term dynamics of the workforce and thinking more holistically about the role of agile working environments in their business. As a result, corporations are coming up with workplace strategies and space efficiency initiatives to future-proof work environments, attract and retain personnel, and mitigate disruption.

Space optimisation

The increased focus on space optimisation is poised to accelerate a radical workplace change away from fixed desks to activity-based working. More than half of the survey respondents plan to implement ABW, compared with only 16% who plan to move to fixed desks. Chinese corporations are at the early stages of considering workplace strategy, while the adoption of flexible working in Japan is already high, accounting for almost half of respondents.

Implementation of workplace strategies is accelerating among corporations; survey findings reveal that MNCs are promoting flexible working by encouraging employees to share desks. Sixty-six per cent of respondents say by 2020, they will have raised the sharing ratio beyond 1:1 — up from the current 30% — meaning that the number of desks will be lower than the total number of employees.

Some companies have set relatively aggressive targets, with around 20% of occupiers planning to implement a desk sharing ratio of 1:1.4 by 2020, from just 3% currently. Implementing such a ratio is best suited to front-line functions, in business lines where employees travel most frequently or in industries such as insurance, which involve a large number of offsite client meetings.

The average space per employee is also set to decline with MNCs implementing more aggressive desk-sharing plans. While this will not necessarily involve reducing desk sizes, a higher desk-sharing ratio will naturally result in a decrease in space per head. Around 63% of MNCs have set a target of reaching a space of under 100 sq ft per employee within the next three years, up from 46% currently.

The main drivers of workplace change for MNCs are enhancing collaboration among employees, and improving talent retention and attraction. Cost saving remains a key factor (35%), but has diminished in importance compared with last year’s survey (53%). Companies increasingly realise that direct cost cutting can actually be counter-productive as it can damage employee morale and negatively affect their corporate image.

Increasing desk-sharing ratios will enable occupiers to reduce space for standard workstations and therefore increase the variety of work settings provided without having to lease additional space.

While the new norm is for flexible working in open-plan offices to foster relationship building and collaboration, noise and other disturbances are an increasing concern. Employees still need quiet spaces for confidential and focused work. MNCs displayed the strongest intentions to increase the number of focus and quiet zones and rooms. Such spaces can also be used as temporary personal offices.

Occupiers also intend to construct more social and relaxation spaces to enhance communication between colleagues. These zones can also help employees recharge during the working day. Relatively fewer respondents said they plan to increase meeting rooms and collaboration spaces, as many have already done so. The survey found stronger interest in creating a greater variety of collaborative spaces and enhancing functions within meeting rooms, such as video conferencing.

Mobile working

Mobile working is being facilitated by the advent of technology such as remote access to corporate systems and laptop computers. Half of the MNCs participating in the survey have already implemented mobile working and another 42% plan to do so, suggesting nearly all will allow mobile working in the near future.

Attitudes towards mobile working are more conservative among Asian companies, with around half of companies in Japan not allowing their staff to work from home. Asian companies traditionally place a stronger emphasis on keeping staff at their desks and do not believe working from home is productive. It should be noted, however, that some MNCs also indicated they regard working remotely from home as being detrimental to communication and collaboration. Clear data security policies should also be in place to ensure sensitive information is not compromised when employees work from home.