Will offices 'die' as more work from home?

PETALING JAYA (April 10): Technology has allowed working remotely to become a growing trend but the recent Covid-19 outbreak has sped up the process drastically.

Many Malaysians were forced to embrace working remotely from home for the first time when the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia came into effect on March 18.

This has allowed a number of Malaysian businesses to continue operating despite the temporary closure of their offices.

Some businesses that were previously considering expanding and relocating are now delaying or rethinking their future physical space expansions, said Knight Frank Malaysia executive director of capital markets James Buckley.

Would Covid-19 permanently shift working patterns when normal times return? Not really, as Buckley believes with the rising acceptance of flexible or home working the traditional office will also evolve.

“This does not mean the death of the office, but we could see a shift in the working model where it becomes more a place for connection, socialisation, creativity and innovation,” he said in a media statement.

He noted that office accommodation is considered a high fixed cost and business leaders may consider whether it is actually necessary for all teams to have a dedicated desk.

“Hot desking, remote working and some provision of co-working can help businesses reduce this fixed cost and provides flexibility to scale up or reduce business space as and when required,” said Buckley.

According to Knight Frank Malaysia, before the Covid-19 chaos, the future of work was already expected to move toward working remotely. However, that movement has clearly been expedited.

This trend is not only changing how work is currently being conducted, but also how it will continue to operate in the future. To ensure business continuity, organisations are advised to have a solid networking infrastructure in place, enabling their employees to stay connected and be productive while working remotely, said the real estate consultancy.

Citing the 2019 IWG Global Workplace Survey, Buckley said over half of employees globally are working outside of their office headquarters for at least 2.5 days a week, 65% of businesses say flexible working helps them to reduce CAPEX/OPEX and manage risk while 85% of respondents confirm that productivity has increased in their businesses as a result of greater flexibility.

Meanwhile, Knight Frank Malaysia executive director of corporate services Teh Young Khean said the Covid-19 outbreak is a chance for companies to re-examine the relationship between companies and their employees, and to elevate their corporate culture to be mutually beneficial for everyone.

“The upside of working from home is being able to avoid long commutes, the preparation time and additional costs of being out of home. It can be treated as financial benefits given cost avoidance which becomes available to individuals,” he noted.

However, Teh added that employees’ self-discipline will be a major concern for employers and trust needs to be built as work from home requires minimal supervision.

“On the other hand, someone working from home may end up working for longer hours than if the work was carried out at the workplace, thus increasing work pressure levels. The same level of discipline is therefore needed to know when work should stop and normal home life begins,” he said.

Stay calm. Stay at home. Keep updated on the latest news at #stayathome #flattenthecurve

This story first appeared in the pullout on April 10, 2020. You can access back issues here.

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