Is it worth keeping your office space post COVID-19?
Post on May 6, 2020
This question has been on employers’ minds for a few months now.
Faced with a global pandemic, many employers are tackling the enormous challenge of adapting to remote working arrangements and cutting costs in order to stay in business.
In those industries that do allow for digitisation, companies that have seized the opportunity to switch to remote digital work are benefitting from the double advantage of greater efficiency and flexibility all round. And considering it may be a while before things go back to normal – if ever – employers are questioning whether their now-empty offices are worth the millions of dollars paid out in rent every year, or not.
There is much discussion on what the future of work will look like after the COVID-19 health emergency subsides. From the myriad of options available, one emerges as a clear consensus: flexibility is more of a priority than ever and will continue to be a key factor going forward. The simple truth is, companies who can change their teams’ working arrangements quickly are more likely to survive the next world crisis, whatever it may be.
And so, the case for the permanent office seems to be getting weaker for several reasons.
Social distancing may last a while
Here in Singapore, circuit-breaker measures have been extended to June 2020. Beyond that, safe distancing measures are likely to remain for some time, so employers will need to find ways to de-densify workspaces as their teams return to the office. Other than physically spacing out workstations to be further apart, one option is to stagger work schedules or split teams across different locations to try to minimise risk and be more adaptable in case of a crisis.
Cost efficiency is key to long-term survival
In this global recession, business confidence is at an all-time low. Most companies have experienced an abrupt shift in focus from earning more revenue to cutting every possible cost. For Singaporean companies, office rents are one of the largest expenses. Those companies that have successfully transitioned to remote working during the pandemic may be missing out on an enormous cost-saving opportunity if they choose to return to the standard office set-up after the crisis subsides.
Flexible workspaces are a viable alternative
What the pandemic has taught us is that, in our globalised world, dramatic market changes are likely to happen again. Companies need to be able to adapt quickly, and long-term office leases restrict their ability to do just that. As the world’s industries look for more agile ways of working, the lock-in terms of permanent office leases pale in comparison to the flexible terms provided by co-working spaces. Co-working spaces are likely to continue to increase in popularity going forward, as employers look to space out their teams or provide alternative options for remote workers.
The number of all-remote companies is growing
During this global remote working experiment, some companies are choosing to dispense with their offices completely and convert their headquarters into a virtual co-working space instead. This not only saves costs, it allows employers to hire the best people regardless of location. Other benefits include a flatter, more transparent working culture facilitated by digital collaboration tools. Not all employers will choose to go to such extremes, but either way, many are delinking productivity and results from physical attendance at the workplace. Going forward, some may opt to locate project-based teams in flexible spaces instead of having the whole team together in an open-office layout.
Employees want more flexibility
Many people who have experienced remote working during the pandemic are more likely to want some form of flexible working going forward. Studies have revealed a link between the decentralisation of work and higher job satisfaction, productivity and organisational commitment, as well as lower stress levels. While some have found working from home to be more stressful, especially those with children in the house, most prefer to have options and to feel a greater sense of control over where they work going forward.
All-in-all, while it is unlikely that office working will disappear altogether, it is expected that working arrangements will look very different in the post-COVID-19 world. In whatever way companies choose to adapt, the key is that they must adapt. And maintaining a greater level of agility is expected to be a top priority for most companies in the coming decade.
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