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Covid-19 impact: Will hybrid office models pave the way forward?

Covid-19 impact: Will hybrid office models pave the way forward?

Companies that recognise that the future is built on a foundation of flexibility and openness, are more likely to thrive

As we emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown and move towards “the new normal”, working from home (WFH) has become a major topic of debate.

Traditionally, WFH was more popular with freelancers and consultants, but with WFH becoming the cornerstone of business continuity during the pandemic, the Covid-19 crisis has permanently changed the way we all live and work.

Through the power of digital technology and an inter-connected workplace, powered by videoconferencing apps and remote monitoring and management tools, we have been able to mirror office practices, and maintain a seamless connection with colleagues and clients. This has given rise to the global adoption of WFH policies and a move away from the traditional ‘office’ set-up.

Concurrently however, many support the view that a reliance on technology tends to make people less personally connected, it negatively affects motivation and performance, and fosters a culture of lack of accountability – thereby advocating strongly for the need for a return to physical offices, as opposed to a policy of WFH.

With such contradictory points of view, what does the future of work look like? Let me share a few insights:

The hybrid model – Offices are not yet passé
The corporate sector was pinning hopes on a sharp V-shape recovery – prompting a quick migration back to offices and back to ‘business as usual’ – but with the economy still reeling from the impact of Covid-19, economists are now predicting a protracted ‘U’ shaped recovery, with stagnant growth for most of 2020 and gradual pick-up from 2021.

Coupled with the fact that the Covid-19 vaccine is still months away from being readily available, many people are in no hurry to rush back to the office and we can expect some level of remote working to continue.

However, with companies locked into tenancies, and many managers still perceiving the home environment as having many distractions and productivity affecting elements, the crisis is likely to force office spaces themselves to change and adapt, rather than entire offices going out of vogue.

Companies will need to be more flexible and understanding and move towards adopting a hybrid model that is a combination of physical office plus remote working. With leading companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft saying they are implementing remote working policies, even after the pandemic ends, we are already seeing a transition towards a hybrid model.

Decentralisation and WFH
It must be said that WFH has sent the physical and virtual worlds on a collision course. While cost saving measures are appealing at the best of times, they are critical during times of crisis and WFH has emerged as an impressive cost-cutting measure. A Global Workplace Analytics report estimates that employers who allow staff to work from home part-time, save a whopping $11,000 per year, per employee. Such huge cost savings cannot be ignored.

Moreover, by 2025, millennials – who are increasingly attracted to flexible and mobile employers – will account for 75 per cent of the global workplace, and Tata Consultancy Services forecasts three-quarters of its total workforce will work permanently from home in five years.

Deloitte believes the future of work is being shaped by two powerful forces: the adoption of AI in the workplace and expansion of the workforce to include ‘on’ and ‘off-balance-sheet’ talent. It’s not where you work, but how you work – free from geographical constraints and fueled by IT connectivity.

We can also expect further office space consolidation, leading to the need for lesser office space, and in turn, more savings on leases. This will be a crucial gamechanger for SMEs, who are currently focused on survival and getting their footing back on solid ground.

Mobile and WFH is clearly on the rise and even companies reluctant to go fully remote, cannot ignore the writing on the wall – A greater emphasis on flexibility and agility is the future of business. However, the framework of WFH/Work remotely is still evolving, and we will witness policies and legislations that will govern it in the future.

The bigger picture
The way we do business has been permanently affected by this pandemic and corporate changes are well underway. There are, however, also wider societal implications – the technological shift and budgetary cuts are likely to ease the pressures on conventional business travel, as people replace their daily commute with remote working. Traditional 9-to-5 routines being changed means lesser car use, fewer trips to the office means reduced visits to the petrol stations and coffee shops, and a myriad of other retailers and services.

It takes a major crisis for us all to see the bigger picture and as a result, companies will most likely become more aware of wellness, mental health issues and relationships.

With ‘empathy’ now a universal (and corporate) given, company culture will become more of a priority. A major consideration is also the fact that given the right conditions, the adoption of WFH, coupled with the use of energy efficient technologies for digital working, can also make a huge contribution towards global carbon emission reductions.

Conclusion
The hybrid office set up is here to stay – Companies cannot ignore the benefits of remote working and ultimately, I see a win-win situation for all stakeholders and for our planet.

It is important that we embrace the future and identify the opportunities ahead of us and not resort to inaction in the face of challenges. The companies that will thrive and prosper post-pandemic, are the ones who recognise that ‘the new normal’ is built on a foundation of flexibility, compromise and openness to change.

Anurag Agrawal is the managing director of Canon Middle East and Turkey

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