SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Through the Covid-19 crisis, all of us have been able to cope with working from home (WFH) with some resemblance of productivity. It is largely because of the professional and social capital that we have accumulated before, when we could meet face-to-face to solve problems, generate ideas, build trust or inspire each other. But as the months pass, it is obvious that this continual drawdown is slowly eroding our social capital, and we are in desperate need of a top-up. We are definitely coping but we are not thriving.
The Great Room at One George Street (Photo: The Great Room)
Now that WFH actually works (sometimes), not only do CEOs have control and flexibility over work, but everyone else too. If CEOs want their teams to win, they must first win the war for talent and crack the code to get the most out of an engaged, high-performing and connected team. It’s all about giving employees the freedom to choose where they work, when they work, and how they work best.
Around the world, debate is still raging on whether the office is finally dead. Narratives are radically different: Some 84% of French office workers are back at their desks, but less than 40% of Britons are. Twitter says company staff can work from home “forever”, but Netflix has decided that WFH is “a pure negative”. In late August, Pinterest paid US$90 million ($123 million) to end a new lease obligation on an office space near its headquarters in San Francisco to create a “more distributed workforce”. That same month, Facebook signed a new lease on a 730,000 sq ft building in Manhattan, adding to its existing 2.2 million sq ft. Bloomberg is reportedly offering a stipend of up to US$75 a day to get workers back to its building in London.
I am of the view that WFH is here to stay. And so is the office. There is no conflict between the two.
While the global pandemic has radically changed the way we work, the fundamentals behind what makes good work remain the same: positive human engagements, inspiring interpersonal relationships and empowering arrangements. Even while companies are discovering the upsides of a remote workforce, the office remains an important space for human experiences — one that allows individuals to function as a company.
The Great Room at Raffles Hotel Arcade opened last year (Photo: The Great Room)
Beyond work culture and a business, a company is really a collective of people who share the same ethos, purpose, world view and sometimes, tastes. Within the office, we don’t just work together; we learn from, and influence, each other.
No doubt, as companies incorporate more dynamic work policies, overall office footprint will shrink and become more distributed. Office space will need to be more flexible too.
Offices and, to an even larger extent, co-working spaces, are the modern agora. In today’s office — especially in the best of co-working spaces — you see a plethora of painstakingly curated events covering learning, motivation and well-being. Such sessions can be conducted virtually, but when everyone has spent the day on Zoom calls, it is inevitable that we will be less receptive to doing another learning or social session facing the screen.
Such sessions are also where “casual collisions” happen. I met my now dear friend and mentor, Mark Edelson, founder of luxury hotel and resort brand, Alila Resorts, while fumbling at a coffee machine. That led to a two-hour conversation where I earnestly took down notes about his venture-building journey.
And the water-cooler chats? I actually believe that everything the boss needs to hear but never hears, happens within 5m of the water-cooler at the office.
The drawing room of The Great Room at Ngee Ann CIty (Photo: The Great Room)
Offices are the physical conduit for the building of relationships, trust and rapport; valuable communities where the friction of ideas can spark the solution your business needs in these challenging times; and it’s a place for spontaneous engagement, deep collaboration and heightened productivity.
People crave face-to-face, social interactions more than ever. Companies and teams need dynamic and activity-based spaces for collaboration, interaction with colleagues and clients, as well as building culture in a local environment.
Returning to work is going to be far more complex than the rapid exit that we all made from our offices. Whenever the necessary return is done, there will be an acceleration of all the trends we have seen for so long in the commercial office sector; and all the opportunities it throws up for the creation of the workplace of tomorrow.
The late great Formula One racing driver, Ayrton Senna, once said: “You cannot overtake 15 cars in sunny weather … but you can when it’s raining.”
The pandemic, for all its ill-effects, has a sunnier take too. What a great opportunity it is for us as business decision-makers to rewire how we see the future of the workplace and to accelerate all that we have been merely paying lip service to:
The work hall of The Great Room at Raffles Hotel Arcade (Photo: The Great Room)
#1 Wellness at the workplace
Safe distancing, addressing recirculated air and reduction of high touch areas — these are safety protocols that have to be taken into consideration as we plan for the return to the workplace. Beyond the table stakes, we need to provide wellness programmes that span the domain of physical well-being, mental resilience, body confidence, nutrition and motivation.
#2 Digitalisation, automation and Internet of Things
Tough competition and fragile margins have discouraged many flexible office operators from investing in technology beyond building access, meeting booking platforms, community communication and space management software. There is a real opportunity for newer and more accessible technologies based on Internet of Things, mobile and AI platforms for better design, management and service delivery that can digitally transform the workspace exponentially.
#3 Eco-friendly and sustainable design
Not using system furniture and garish strip-lighting is no longer enough. Great design also means building with much more sustainable materials, recycling items that can yield a second life, substituting plastic when it makes sense to, and bringing in greens to refresh the air.
#4 Seamless new membership plans
The idea of the workspace now needs to transfer seamlessly between the physical and virtual worlds — from a conducive office for deep work to virtual conferences and video conferencing to peer support. The need for greater flexibility goes beyond providing membership plans: co-working operators now have to help companies strategise companies’ space and team needs.
Some companies may be thinking of taking less space for now, but with the flexibility of future expansion once the economy revs up; or having their staff distributed across several locations. But far more valuable than that are companies looking to redesign their offices into a dynamic co-working-like space; or better yet, move right into a co-working space as a place for employees to bring their best energy and ideas to office each day.
Jaelle Ang is the co-founder and CEO of The Great Room