Across the industry, conversations around the future of work are evolving and are a motive for companies to rethink what business might look like in a post-COVID world.
Written by: Nihal Shetty
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Across the industry, conversations around the future of work are evolving and are a motive for companies to rethink what business might look like in a post-COVID world. In such a scenario, companies will need to innovate based on the shift in consumer behavior, both in the short and long-term.
Before the lockdown, the flexible workspace segment grew sharply for the last three years. According to JLL India, with over 1,000 collaborative spaces, India is the second-largest market in the Asia-Pacific region after China. In India, the industry has been seeing about 25-30 percent growth every year, and expansion has also reached Tier 2 cities.
Despite the disruption, the focus would remain on managing revenues and increasing productivity, but the one significant evolution would be to adhere to social distancing norms. Businesses and companies need to evolve, incorporating innovative solutions and practices in their business models in order to keep up with the shift in the ecosystem and industry. Flexible workspaces are a perfect fit for any business to grow and change with the current scenario.
The immediate question is how.
Currently, we see companies encouraging a significant percentage of their employees to work from home to ensure employees can take care of their health and reduce exposure to infection. Microsoft is allowing employees to work from home till October while Google and Facebook are allowing work from home until the end of the year. TCS in India has planned to shift 50-75 percent of its workforce to WFH by 2025. VMWare is anticipating up to 60 percent of employees to opt WFH.
After reading these reports, one could be mistaken into thinking that working from home is a long term solution but we feel that this won't be the case in India. To begin with, employees across the business have showcased concerns about lack of infrastructure and necessary services that will boost the transition to working from home. We are aware that many of our employees stay in PGs and flats that do not have the best internet connection alongside lack of services like timely meals/ tea/coffee etc. to facilitate good health.
Services like gyms, regular meals and snacks, games rooms, provided by flexible workspaces are known to boost employee productivity. Working in isolation has also shown to have adverse effects on mental health. The conversation around mental health has become louder in the last few months with people citing sleep concerns leading to fatigue that stems from not having time to ‘switch off’ from work. The physical and mental effort that goes into attending video meetings is much more than in-person meetings leading to Zoom fatigue or Zoom Coma . The exhaustion stemming from sharing the same space for work, leisure, entertainment and rejuvenation is a real and growing concern.
From a pure infrastructure point of view, working from home also throws up several questions on the utilisation and billing of everyday utilities like the internet, electricity and so on. To take an example, what is stopping an internet service provider from renegotiating internet plans due to increased usage as their servers will be burdened many times over?
This is where we believe that remote working could be looked at as a possible solution in the long-term.
For a lot of enterprises, the desire to seek flexible workspaces has been growing in the last few years. This stems from their intention of moving their real estate costs to a variable expense as opposed to a fixed one, which would unlock significant cash in hand. This also gives enterprises the advantage of adapting to business fluctuations in a smoother manner. Flexible workspaces allow for the addition of real estate as an agile asset, rather than a fixed one, in a company's portfolio. With agile real estate, enterprises can choose the initial capital expenditure that goes into space, letting them have control over the contraction and expansion rights that can be leveraged to align with their business needs.
When considering the impact of the potential future, having flexible workspaces in the business portfolio could be a good move for the business. Furthermore, social distancing is expected to become the norm and all employees working out of one space will be watchful that it is strictly adhered to. By operating out of multiple spaces, companies can mitigate the risk of infection.
Another aspect that could swing in favour of remote working is a weariness towards long commutes. More than the duration of the commute, employees would want to work closer to home as this allows them to be close to their family, which, during uncertain times is seen as a necessity. Thus, companies will seek smaller set-ups in several flexible workspaces across the city which would help in facilitating employees working closer to home.
Finally, a core competency of any flexible workspaces is its focus on a strong community. Each space has its own community managers who are not only critical to delivering a great experience for members at the space but they are also critical in fostering seamless communication, which all of us agree is critical during a major health epidemic. What’s more is that people are overloaded with information which can be counterproductive when combating the spread of the virus.
By having a community team working round-the-clock as an information filter, members can access reliable information whilst ignoring a raft of updates from social media or WhatsApp forwards. Being part of a community not only gives one a sense of belonging but also fosters communication amongst members. What’s noticeable is the office energy! Proximity with the community, transparency and cultural diversity contribute to a healthy and positive office vibe. This in turn boosts productivity and establishes a sense of well-being. Allowing the community to become a support network that they can rely on, has led to people thriving at work.
This unique filter—for both external and internal information—at each flexible workspace across the country ensures that each building becomes a safe environment to work. Moreover, by having access to your community teams virtually means at no point are you left feeling unsure of what is safe to do at your workspace.
Awareness of the changing needs of members and employees is key for the foreseeable future. The practices and policies we put in place now keeping our entire collaborative ecosystem in mind will go a long way in paving the future for a new way of working and a new kind of workspace.
—Nihal Shetty is General Manager, WeWork India. The views expressed are personal