Why the Future Landscape of Office Spaces Will Change from 2021

Mar 3rd, 2021
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With governments easing up on pandemic restrictions, more and more businesses are opening their doors for customers and employees alike. This article explains how and why organisations must develop a flexible outlook towards bringing their workforce back and prepare for what the future holds.

In lieu of the pandemic, companies - both small and large - have a lot to deal with in terms of logistics, productivity and cost effectiveness when it comes to office space management. The new normal has issued in a new era of ‘work from home’ and even though it's the safe option right now, it's not sustainable in the long term. The pandemic has catapulted the move towards flexible working culture, making it not just a temporary trend, but a reality.

For employees, this new culture has paved the way for new tools and regulations that help them work as efficiently as possible from their homes. And as and when they’ll be getting back to their workplace, the workplace dynamic will not be the same as it was pre-COVID. Employees will experience a different reality and will need to adapt to the new normal. This means more flexibility in working hours, a more open work culture, and - obviously - more safety.

For organisations, the transition of getting employees back to work will not be so simple since they have to think about government compliance rules, company compliance rules and safety of the employees. The management also needs to prepare for the dynamic changes in the future and not just focus on the current. It will ultimately come down to how companies will maintain high productivity and high operational efficiency while harbouring a safe environment without breaking the bank.

‘Fixed’ vs ‘Flexible’

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Up until 2019, the work dynamic of office spaces included fixed working hours, pre-arranged seating plans, and a strong collaborative culture. The whole paradigm had a sense of permanency.

The transition to work-from-home was swift and unorganised, which led to companies taking a big hit financially and administratively. But now, a lot of companies are moving to a flexible workplace with variable working hours, social distancing and variable seating. This type of functionality doesn’t support a completely collaborative culture as well as the pre-pandemic space management system, A hybrid workplace model creates the perfect balance between collaboration and space optimization and provides new opportunities for higher cost-saving while keeping safety the number one priority.

Key Learnings from helping businesses in 50+ cities Transition to a Hybrid Workplace:

1. Work Rostering

If we dive deeper into the hybrid working model, the first question that arises is what percentage of people will be working in the office at any given time? Decisions such as these are left to the higher-ups since it requires research, knowledge of safety regulations and an in-depth understanding of how the company runs. However, delegating the allocation to team leads and employees can help implement such plans with ground reality in mind.

Business continuity is ensured when the workplace and the workforce play well together. This relationship can be streamlined through workforce rostering. For effectively executing a flexible plan, some steps need to be taken into consideration:

  • Define the percentage of workforce working remotely and in-office
  • Categorize employees by work location - permanently working from home or office or flexible
  • Plan rostering schedules for employees on a daily/weekly/monthly basis
  • Utilise AI technology to get recommendations on optimizing work schedules and allocations

2. Seat Planning & Allocation

This is the most important learning and probably what businesses will be focussing on the most. For small offices, this is an easy task since the inventory density is low, but for corporations that employ 100+ employees on a floor, space and desk management will be somewhat chaotic and will require additional assistance. For such a large scale, it is not ideal to be running around with a measuring tape and marking safe areas around a huge office space.

Large scale space management requires AI-based automation for selecting safe areas and allocating space. The other side of the coin looks at how employees perceive the change. A complex and flexible model will require transparency on all levels of hierarchy and a system is required that allows employees to be aware of the related information.

3. Saving Space Costs

While solutions are deployed to stay safe and organised in the new normal, the administration cannot be bleeding money. The entire plan must be pocket-friendly to the company.

So the question arises - how can we prepare the organization in a way that the new setup will help save costs? This is where work rostering truly comes into play.

For instance, a company has 50 available seats in its new hybrid model. Out of a 1000 employees, initially 300 will be coming to office while 700 will be either working from home or tandem between both. While this model works in the initial stages, as more people start coming to work, a more refined plan will be required that rosters the safely distant seats among the multiple teams coming on select days of the week. This only goes to show that there is a new opportunity for companies to leverage this hybrid model to utilise space efficiently and give up unused spaces eventually.

4. Safety, Security and Compliance

Despite all the research and technology that goes into maintaining an efficient working environment, employees in general are still skeptical about coming back to work - and rightfully so.

This is the reason that almost every company opening their doors is leaving no stones unturned when it comes to employee safety.

Introducing contactless process, occupancy control and contact tracing in a seamless manner will not only make the workplace safe and future-ready but also distill confidence in the returning employees.

5. Employee Experience

As businesses welcome employees back, they need to ensure that the employee experience is as seamless as possible, be it in their seating arrangements, their morale or their productivity.

Decision makers need to work towards making their workspace compliant with all forms of regulations, reduce the use of multiple technologies and resources for multiple tasks (unified interface) and provide a strong collaborative and communicative culture at the workplace. There has to be ease of navigation through the new way of hybrid working - allowing employees to find their colleagues, find a seat which will help them have a productive day at office and access all new processes introduced on a single pane of glass.

Need For A Future Workplace is Here and Now

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The process of moving to a hybrid workspace is a time-driven journey characterised by 5 stages that companies can take at their own pace. It starts with:

  1. Remote work - ‘Working from home’ during the pandemic. Most companies are already past this stage and onto the next which is
  2. Back to work - This is where the transition to a flexible workplace begins. Workplace readiness is key during this stage because the successfulness of the transition depends on how employees perceive the new changes.
  3. Flexibility - Once the workplace achieves a comfort zone, offices continue to employ their flexible approach by expanding the return to a larger chunk of their workforce. This would require a system which brings together workforce rostering and space management for effective seat planning.
  4. Workplace culture - At this stage, defining a new workplace culture becomes key. This would include adopting means for higher transparency in workplace arrangements, integrating collaboration technologies and seamless communication through the organization..
  5. Future of the workplace - This is where your company will work solely on the bottom line which is improving productivity, saving costs, and providing a safe and compliant environment for all employees.

There are a lot of moving parts to this transition to a hybrid workplace and technology will be a true facilitator. Selecting the technology solution which brings together employee experience and workplace management can be the key to success. Businesses will journey across the stages as they shift to the new hybrid workplace and a solution which can support through this journey can help get the most value - both in adoption as well as real cost savings. With AI recommendations, business teams will be able to make informed decisions about space optimization. At the end of the day, technology will be the catalyst to the new paradigm of flexible workspaces, bringing to the table better collaboration and space optimization opportunities that will eventually change the way we work.