Future workforce likely to adopt hybrid work arrangements, CBRE survey shows

By Charlene Chin / EdgeProp Singapore | September 29, 2021 5:39 PM SGT
In a survey of 109 respondents conducted by CBRE in May, some 20% of employers surveyed believe their staff will work remotely about one day per week. This is up from 18% in October 2020 (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Once the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted, most workers will be returning to the office. The only difference is the frequency in which they report to the workplace.
In a survey of 109 respondents conducted by CBRE in May, some 20% of employers believe that their staff will work remotely about one day per week, up from 18% in October 2020.
“As most companies will continue to require employees to spend most of their working week in the office, the adoption of these practices will have only a limited downside impact on future office demand,” it highlights in a report.
Under pressure from rising Covid-19 cases in the city-state, the Singapore government recently announced tighter restrictions. Working from home has once again become the default arrangement for workers able to do so, effective from Sept 27 to Oct 24.

Hybrid, flexible working for the future

Senior business leaders are now willing to offer a greater degree of flexibility and choice for their employees although they still do have a strong desire to bring workers back to the office. Some 47% of respondents intend to allow hybrid working arrangements for their staff, shows the survey.
But even with the wider adoption of hybrid work, most companies still expect their workers to work in the office.
Companies are now in the midst of formulating best practices concerning hybrid working policies. Several major tech firms have announced their stance on the policy, with pay cuts in the works for those who choose to perform remote work. As employers request for more flexibility, “occupiers will therefore need to consider employee expectations and allow for a transition period towards the new normal”, says CBRE.
Some 15% of respondents surveyed, mostly Asian companies, believe that remote working will not continue after the pandemic.
Office occupiers have also been factoring uncertainty into their business decisions. Over 70% of employers surveyed plan to include flexible spaces in their office portfolios two years from now, an increase from the current 57%.
“As the flexible space industry continues to evolve to meet occupier requirements, a broader offering, running from on-demand meeting space to customised private suites, is becoming available,” says CBRE.
Flexible office operators and landlord-backed brands have also begun differentiating themselves by providing premium service offerings featuring advanced tech to cater to enterprise clients, it observes.
However, despite stronger interest in flexible space use, it maintains that the proportion of flexible space as a percentage of overall office portfolio to be stable at “under 25% in most cases”.

Changes to expect

With the global work from home experiment proof that most roles can indeed operate out of anywhere, the expectation towards office spaces has changed. “Many of them are thinking about leveraging space, communal space or meeting rooms with smaller areas,” notes Ada Choi, head of occupier research, APAC and head of data intelligence and management at CBRE, in a webinar.
Occupiers are also displaying stronger intentions to increase collaborative space and have identified spaces for unscheduled catchups and communal spaces for socialising as the two types of areas where they expect demand to increase.
To that end, large board meeting rooms housing 20 people are likely to be less popular as more meetings will be conducted online. Employers also foresee that space per capita will continue to fall despite short-term demand for social distancing.

Optimal arrangement for the business

While companies have turned to work from home as a last measure to contain the spread of Covid-19, this may not mean it is the most optimal solution for businesses.
“What is a result of people being adaptable and still being able to execute does not necessarily equate to what is optimal for these companies and we are faced with a situation whereby there is no choice. Work from home started as a result of the lockdown to the restrictions but by and large, we are adapting to it,” says Lim Kian Fong, managing director at real estate development and investment firm Hines.
But “the game changer comes when people have a choice and when you have a choice, a number of other factors will come to play. An adapting model would quickly have the potential to transform into what is optimal,” he says.
“We’ve all sort of show that even in Covid, we can adapt and continue to do business, do deals and close deals. Obviously, the billion-dollar question about the long-term demand of office hangs on a weighing scale,” says Lim.
Different regions have adapted differently to the work from home versus office situation, he says, “There are cultural factors at play. We have seen in certain regions like Shanghai and — to a certain extent Hong Kong — that people by and large are back to the office in a bigger way.”

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