As different states adopt different strategies for exit from the lockdown, employees have no option but to continue to Work from Home (WFH) for a few more weeks. However, by now, it is evident that the ‘next normal’ cannot be a permanent solution — professionals across corporate enterprises continue to miss their offices & interaction with colleagues, and it is time that organisations start finding ways to bring the workforce back to office.
“Company cultures cannot be made over video calls,” wrote an industry leader recently in his blog. While India Inc continues to work from home, employees feel differently. As per a recent JLL Work from Home Experience Survey, almost 82 percent of employees in India have shown their eagerness to go back to their offices and work — the way it was before the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to the survey conducted in May 2020, only 18 percent employees are fine working from home. The survey conducted with over 3,000 employees working across 10 countries and various sectors including some of the biggest office markets mapped the impact of remote working, confidence in future over sustainability and implications for corporate real estate leaders.
What are Employees Missing?
While home is where the heart is, office is where the collaboration is. And this is what the global workforce continues to miss the most. Never has this been more evident that we cannot work in isolation for long, and while digital collaboration tools have been a great enabler, they would not be able to replace in-person meetings and water cooler conversations.
Globally, ‘missing social interactions at offices’ has got 54 percent of the votes, making it the biggest factor of all for people to miss office. In India, the absence of a professional environment has got the maximum vote of 41 percent against the global score of 31 percent.
Why WFH May Not Work For India
India’s score indicating lack of a professional environment proves a point. Most Indian homes need adjustments when it comes to WFH. For instance, the average size of homes in some regions ranges between 40 square metre to 60 square metre. This house size may be small if one has to install a working desk. Most houses do not have a study room.
Second, there may be technical challenges such as network connectivity, allocation and provision of hardware in case of any disruption and special requirements for specific employees. Then there are certain jobs which need far greater levels of collaboration.
During my conversation with industry peers and clients, we have come to a common understanding that while India Inc is geared up to take the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, it is also looking at more innovative solutions for re-entry and re-imagining office spaces.
What Is Being Done To Bring us Back To Offices?
Even with remote working, there remains a strong case for office spaces. This has propelled corporate real estate leaders, to discuss strategies around repurposing and redesigning work spaces to provide infrastructure for collaboration among those working from home and those in offices.
The discussions over WFH strategies also involve identifying roles that can be shifted to WFH format starting from the first day of a job. Many companies already have a work from home policy. They have extended the policy to a larger employee base for the short term. In the long term, this could mean office space and location requirements may change to accommodate physical distancing norms and staggered working models.Going ahead, developing a flexible and hybrid model for offices – accommodating for a sizable portion of working employees within offices – will be the norm. Two models can be adopted –
- Hub & Spoke – a combination of urban and sub-urban.
- Core & Flex – a combination of HQ and flex/satellite offices.
The fundamental and foremost priority here is to ensure safety and well-being of all employees. While the social distancing mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be in effect for the foreseeable future, now’s the time for organisations to think about re-entry into what will be a fundamentally different workplace model. Gaining a competitive advantage in the post-COVID-19 world, calls for adopting a new distributed workforce ecosystem and re-imagining the workplace of tomorrow.
We must be prepared for this paradigm shift that will forever change the landscape of corporate real estate.