Re-imagining workplaces in a post-Covid-19 world

By
David Hutton
,
managing director
,
development
,
Lendlease
/ EdgeProp Singapore
|
November 6, 2020 6:00 AM SGT
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Caught by the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 and steep changes in technology, organisations are rethinking the role of their physical offices. As more employees return to formal workplaces, we have a duty of care to raise the bar on health and well-being while adapting to a more flexible work dynamic.
Proactive developers and owners are re-imagining their office and workplace offerings to better respond to pandemic risks and adopting smart technology to better support employees’ well-being.
smart technology workplace - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Proactive developers and owners are re-imagining their office and workplace offerings to better respond to pandemic risks and adopting smart technology to better support employees’ well-being (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Drivers of change in office space requirements

Covid-19 has proven that work can be undertaken remotely. Many employees are celebrating flexible work, as it means avoiding time wasted on daily commutes and risks associated with mass transit. Hybrid work arrangements are likely to be more common, for instance, one to two days of remote work and the rest of the week in the office; or drop-in regional hubs for employees to share smaller workplaces closer to home, complemented by a CBD office.
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Global research firm Gartner’s recent CFO survey found that nearly three in four CFOs intend to convert at least 5% of their workforce to virtual roles on a permanent basis post-Covid-19.
Greater emphasis on hygiene will lead to a preference for more dedicated and generous working environments, a reversal of recent trends of increased hot-desking and shared workspaces. Increased spatial distancing and lower workplace density translate to more space per person.
Covid-19 has created disruption and imposed isolation but as restrictions are lifted, it is imperative that companies increase productivity, re-engage employees and pursue innovation. This is likely to re-ignite the demand for modern workplaces. Well-designed workplaces enhance human interaction, knowledge transfer as well as fuel inspiration, collaboration and trust.
Smart businesses taking a more holistic and long-term view already understand that the office represents a small cost relative to the cost of their employees; and that a positive workplace provides material productivity gains and a significant return on investment. Leaders in the workplace have shifted their approach from “housing staff” to “creating environments that enhance the well-being and engagement of their employees”.
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BLD-CSUITES-BY-LENDLEASE - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Well-designed workplaces enhance human interaction, knowledge transfer as well as fuel inspiration, collaboration and trust (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Questioning the purpose of workplace

In this changed paradigm, how will the role of the workplace evolve? It is incumbent upon employers to re-think their physical workplace and how it is used. Many of the apparent pandemic-related changes were already existing trends. Working from home, increased flexibility, improving technology, online transactions and the importance of health and well-being — these trends have been transforming workplaces for the past decade. The pandemic has, however, accelerated these trends to become mainstream requirements.
The majority of human work is no longer about administration, repetitive transactions or being task-orientated. Modern enterprises are dependent on innovation, creative thought, generating trust, inspiring action, and attracting and retaining talent. The successful businesses of tomorrow will be technology-aligned and solution-focused, inspiring problem-solving and creating new channels of value-add. Diversity of thought, human interaction, talent development and learning are all fundamental to this future.
The office can no longer be just a space for work. It must be a place for collaboration and making connections both on a professional and social level. While virtual meetings have proven to be an effective workaround, they do not replace the trust and engagement found in face-to-face communication. Relying solely on digital tools reduces diversity, hampers spontaneity and narrows perspectives. A healthy, collaborative and inspiring physical workplace is a powerful contributor to strong company values and business success. The workplace of the future will be a combination of having a physical presence complemented by a virtual working environment.
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The workplace - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The workplace will not be an “either/or” but rather include both physical and digital environments (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

The pandemic will change future design and operations

Recent industry studies have reinforced that well-being and physical work interactions contribute to an improvement in productivity, and that collaboration is key. Proactive employers will continue investing in positive workplaces where employees can interact, while also offering their workforce the flexibility and technology to work in virtual teams. The workplace will not be an “either/or” but rather include both physical and digital environments. More space in workplaces will be allocated to meeting facilities incorporating smart technology with the provision of higher-quality collaboration, health and well-being amenities.
Whilst the threat of the pandemic remains, workplaces will evolve to incorporate higher standards of cleanliness more akin to those of healthcare institutions, such as the utilisation of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) to enhance air sanitation and the introduction of contactless shared surfaces that are sensor-activated or app-operated using face- and voice- recognition technology. We may also see the rise of pandemic-resistant buildings using antimicrobial materials similar to hospital and laboratory design or “self-disinfecting” oligodynamic metal surfaces such as copper, brass and bronze.
Further innovations in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning technologies will enable office environments to provide hospital-grade air quality. Fresh air intakes, mixed-mode ventilation systems, high-efficiency air filtration, operable windows and split air-handling units will become more commonplace.
positive workplace - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
A positive workplace is a very powerful tool in an organisation’s ability to attract leading talent and clients (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

The workplace evolution has been accelerated

The current pandemic has accelerated how businesses evaluate their workplace purpose and approach. For example, the drive to improve wellness and productivity will result in more biophilic design features to offer a connection to the natural environment and to complement comprehensive well-being programmmes to enhance the employee experience.
The office is not going away — and the lessons from the mass telecommuting experience of Covid-19 underscore the desire for employees to have access to a physical shared environment that promotes and embraces a company’s culture, values and brand. It is a place where collaboration and innovation can thrive and where individuals can build professional and social networks.
Companies will undergo a mindset shift from viewing the physical office as an operational expense to an investment that can directly enhance employee productivity.
A positive workplace is a very powerful tool in an organisation’s ability to attract leading talent and clients. In a post-Covid-19 world, there is increased pressure to create value, enhance productivity and build competitiveness. Quality workplaces are more relevant than ever today.
David Hutton - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
David Hutton is managing director, development, at Lendlease. Lendlease is an international property and infrastructure group with operations in Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas, spanning the development, investments and construction sectors.