The Future of Work and Workplace Flexibility Is About Choice

With the future of work in flux, discover how MNCs like Standard Chartered Bank are re-evaluating their business strategy.

For most of the last century, the concept and social construct of where we work has primarily been confined to four walls and a desk. Whether that has been in a private, shared, or open-plan office, the workspace has revolved mainly around an outdated factory-like work model that measures productivity by metrics such as “hours-put-in" rather than “quality-of-output". Today modern technology and globalised communication systems have allowed us to become a more agile and mobile workforce. Collaboration now happens in real-time and from anywhere through mobile phones, virtual conferences, social media and even in line waiting for a coffee. As a result, the pandemic and the worldwide work-from-home measures accelerated businesses and industries urgency to re-evaluate their real estate portfolios, communication channels and infrastructure needs faster than any global event to date. Although the skeleton of office spaces hasn't fundamentally shifted, the infrastructure (design, technology, etc.) and the usage of its inhabitants has changed significantly. The COVID-19 pandemic, like other global crises, has been a significant disruptor to the way we work, but it has also been an accelerator of social transformation. Successful companies in the future will be ones that are quick to adopt flexible working practices.

The Drivers of Workplace Changes

During times of uncertainty and economic turbulence, many businesses look to retain as much cash as possible and minimise costs and expenditures. As such, when businesses downsize, they look to reduce real estate and the expenses that go with it such as headcount, capital expenditure and operational costs. However, many companies with long-term, direct from landlord, fixed leases find themselves unable to adjust their real estate footprint as the markets change. For these reasons, during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008-2010, many corporations began to see the potential in leveraging flexible workspaces and the coworking culture that was already blossoming at the turn of the millennia. “As a solution, flexible workspaces provide ready to use, fully furnished and serviced workspaces for the headcount that's needed at hand. This gives businesses much more flexibility to scale up or even down, and even to relocate at a relatively short notice compared to a direct lease with a landlord", said Paul Salnikow, the Founder & CEO of The Executive Centre, Asia Pacific’s leading premium flexible workspaces provider. “However, as with many trends, soon after the turbulence of GFC passed, many businesses returned to the old ways of using permanent leases with direct landlords. With COVID-19, however, since the issue is fundamentally one driven by both social wellbeing, as well as financial challenge and change, leaders are being forced to relook at how they lead their organisations and people.”

As people are finding success and productivity amidst the newly discovered flexible working arrangement, unlike the aftermath of the GFC, many of the social changes will roll over into the “new normal” and flexible working practices will become a part of the working norm in the future of work. In fact, The Executive Centre's 2020 and 2021 Mid-Year Sentiment Survey found that over 82% of their Members stated that Flexible Workspaces are crucial to their business operations. One of the reasons being that flexible workspaces help recruit from a wider international talent pool for specialist expertise, and helps retain top talents by providing greater workplace flexibility. “The talent of the future are expecting flex; whether that’s flexible work hours or locations. And for many business leaders I've spoken with, being flexible is no longer an option but a requirement" said Sheridan Perkins, Property Program Director of Standard Chartered Bank’s Future Workplace, Now program.

Key Workplace Strategy Considerations

Traits Of Successful Flex Adopters

To successfully transition towards flexible working practices, companies need to look internally and understand their business requirements and priorities first, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution. A successful adopter of flex should interview and collaborate with their employees extensively, conduct research to make informed decisions, seek external consultations from multiple industry partners, and at the very least understand where their operations needs to be geographically and how the occupants will use that space. Taking into account the insights from the aforementioned data points can help businesses ascertain the appropriate implementation route for their future workplace strategy. For example, the results can lead to knowing whether your business and employees requires a network of Serviced Offices or Coworking Spaces around one central business district, or around the world.
Perkins shared that their strategy for implementing flexible work practices boiled down to three factors: physical, digital and human.

Future of Work Now Data Points

Ultimately, for Perkins, their findings were that the future of work is about empowering their employees with choice and workplace flexibility. In their worldwide employee workplace trends survey of office-based staff they found that their teams in countries with weaker infrastructure preferred to return to the traditional offices; employees in regions with higher density saw staff wanting to return to either their traditional offices or a flexible workspaces away from home. In comparison, employees in countries with existing flexible working culture and established work from anywhere infrastructure saw higher adoption rates for hybrid work models.

Shelley Boland, Head of Property Asia Pacific, added, “The industry today is much more open-minded, there is a growing movement and workplace trend where employers are responding to their employees. Organisations are seeing from the perspective of individual choice. Successful adopters of flex will be those that have the foresight to model and visualise how workplace changes may affect business outcomes, operations and employees. More than that, it's about being flexible and agile enough to adapt if those models fail."

Download the whitepaper report here for more insights and best practices from Standard Chartered Bank and The Executive Centre's Future of Work collaboration.