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The Office of the Future: The Operative word now is ‘Hybrid’

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The value proposition and offerings of a hybrid work model far exceeds that of working out of conventional, business district based non-flexible offices. Hybrid work is really, therefore, the only smart way to work.

The Office of the Future: The Operative word now is ‘Hybrid’
The good news is that the workforce is finally trooping in back to the workplace. What began as a trickle is now a stream and hopefully, will soon be a flood. For enterprises, navigating the pandemic and staying afloat in its wake emerged as one of the biggest operational challenges of our times – something totally without precedent. For companies big and small, survival became the only mantra, as offices, factories, hotels, cinemas, malls and stores emptied out. Thankfully and hopefully, all of this is now in the past and even the worst affected economies are rapidly opening and embracing the new normal. Consequently, the return-to-work has emerged as a boardroom and C-suite issue – as business leaders personally monitor back-to-office plans.
The new normal has made professional communities break with deep-rooted conventions and embrace flexibility and resilience like never before. The change has been the realisation that the workforce can work remotely. And this is a big change for which one needs to take a quick detour into workplace history. The first offices came into being at the zenith of the British empire – the world’s first office was established in London in 1726. As industrialisation increased, a consequent increase in paperwork and focus on maximising workforce efficiency led to the development of open-plan offices, where workers sat in neat and endless rows under uniform lighting.
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With time, office plans changed but the premise that offices were required for efficient workforce management remained fundamental. The pandemic ended this in a manner no one could have anticipated - communications technology ensured that even during the worst lockdowns, the workforce was engaged, productive and connected. Now that the pandemic is losing its grip, the workforce, realizing that the centrally located office headquarter is no longer sacrosanct, is demanding flexible workspace arrangements that allow them to be in better control of their time and space and thereby be closer to their families and loved ones and commute less. Realising this, what began as a pandemic-induced need, has now moved beyond the pandemic as corporates start laying out a hub-and-spoke model of workplaces allowing employees the option of flexible work.
Staging sustainability and sensitivity towards environment back in the centre
The conventional way of working which involves long commutes, crowded workspaces and working odd hours out of office headquarters make it difficult for companies to achieve their sustainability goals. Hybrid working not only advocates long term sustainability but also populates sensitivity towards the environment as it lets employees commute less by working from closer home, thereby helping enterprises and individuals reduce their carbon footprint.  According to IT giant, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the firm reduced its carbon footprint by 49 percent in 2020 by allowing its employees to work remotely. Amid the pandemic, the hybrid model is becoming an impetus in steering enterprises towards an environmentally conscious business model.
Making room for new business models & attracting better talent
Volatility in business and the environment it operates in does not shy away from setting precedents. Given the new normal, today more than ever businesses need to innovate and introduce multiple business models to secure their operational future. Flexible workspaces provide a wide berth to businesses to scale up and introduce new verticals by cutting costs, minimising risk, and facilitating the acquisition of high-quality talent. According to an EY report, more than half of the employees around the world surveyed would be willing to quit if not presented with flexible options to work. With the rise of the gig economy, employers need to take extra care and ensure the best utilisation of talent, skills and expertise. Flexible workspaces facilitate customisation of workspaces to individual needs, whether they are technology, creativity or administration driven. More agile businesses have better operational dynamics as they move in and out of markets with greater ease, thereby boosting investor and stakeholder confidence in their business strategy.
Prioritising employee wellness and health
With the pandemic, health and wellness have become uncompromisable factors for employees and enterprises. Conventional office structures have been largely choreographed to stack in more employees and cut down real estate costs. It is difficult for these offices to be operational even at half their capacity and follow social-distancing and hygiene guidelines, simultaneously.  Flexible workspace designs adhere to hygiene practices and focus on improving the working life of employees. Breaking the shackles of a cubicle, flexible workspaces are designed to be more ergonomic and dynamic with every foot. Something as extraneous as natural light and acoustics is managed properly to aid fluid working and collaboration of employees.
Adding value to social responsibility
Businesses cannot last long by alienating themselves from the surroundings they operate within. Workspaces must interact socio-economically with their localities to create thriving communities and boost local business. High rise office spaces established in constricted business districts can only offer so much, socially. Flexible work establishments in smaller cities and suburban areas generate both primary and secondary employment. In addition to this, hybrid work foster investment opportunities for local real-estate and infrastructure players thereby contributing to thriving local communities.
The value proposition and offerings of a hybrid work model far exceeds that of working out of conventional, business district based non-flexible offices. This is enabling a very real and holistic transformation of the way we work, improving work-life balance, being more sustainable and most importantly, boosting employee productivity. Hybrid work is really, therefore, the only smart way to work.
 
 
(The author of this article is Harsh Lambah, Country Manager India, Vice President Sales – South Asia, IWG. The views expressed in this article are his own.)
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