As lockdowns around the world are lifting to various degrees, companies are rethinking how workspaces should be like when everyone returns to the office. Or if offices are needed at all, as seen from Twitter’s announcement that its employees can work from home forever.
In Singapore, we won’t be returning back to the office once the circuit breaker ends. Even as the nation gradually resumes operations in 3 phases, we know that our workplaces will not be quite the same as the one we left behind in February.
While no one can predict the changes to come, some workplace trends are discernible at this stage.
#1 Telecommuting Will Become A Norm
The pandemic has forced us to take that leap into remote working. Companies may have had their reservations about telecommuting before, but now there’s no longer a choice. Even after the circuit breaker ends, the Government has emphasised that businesses who can work from home should continue to do so. It may not even be that farfetched to think that some of us will not return to the office this year.
One positive thing is that the appreciation for remote is maturing, as companies realise telecommuting actually works for most of us. Moving forward, some companies may stick to telecommuting practices as a mandatory precaution, but there will be those who emerge from this crisis seeing remote work as a part of their operational model.
#2 The End For Open Plan Offices
Open floor plans may be a popular arrangement, but its incompatibility with social distancing guidelines will pose a challenge as we return back to the office. A call centre in South Korea had a COVID-19 outbreak due to its crowded office settings, where 43.5% of workers on one floor tested positive for the virus. It suggests how such workspaces can be risky and potentially a source of further transmission.
In Singapore, workplaces have to adhere to safe management measures stipulated by the Ministry of Manpower. That includes a 1-metre spacing between people at all times, marked out by either visual indicators or physical means such as high barriers between workstations or relocation of workstations.
Common spaces such as canteens, pantries, or water coolers must not have employees socialising or congregating. To reduce transmission in the workplace, these common spaces might remain shut for the time being, or need to be re-configured.
#3 Adjustments Within The Gig Economy
Freelancers are one of the harder-hit workers due to the pandemic.
However, we will likely see an uptick of freelance workers as people feel more secure with multiple sources of income or with job openings harder to come by in the meantime.
Layoffs seen across multiple sectors during such economic uncertainty has heightened the importance of financial security for many, which may be a strong motivation for people to have a side hustle as a safety net.
For those who are freelancing full-time, companies might be more likely to access freelancers for cost efficiency, and to outsource a project to a freelancer instead of filling a full-time position.
Companies might also be more open to the idea of working with remote freelancers than before, given that the pandemic has forced us all to work from home for a substantial amount of time.
#4 Reshaping Employee Perks
With the sudden adoption of remote work, and the need for safe distancing measures in the workplace, once-celebrated employee perks seem no longer relevant.
Some employees at MNCs enjoyed free gourmet food and gym classes at the office, but are told they are not allowed to expense such costs when working from home.
The shift in workplace dynamics might mean a need for more practical necessities, such as stipends for home office equipment or meal delivery expenses.
What Will Happen To The Ecosystems Built Around Office Work?
As companies stick to remote working arrangements, we can only wonder what will be of our business districts and commercial areas that are reliant on the foot traffic of office workers. Restaurants and retail stores in the neighbourhood depend on workers for their survival, who pour in every day, be it grabbing lunch, a coffee run, or an afterwork tipple.
Rookery, a casual dining restaurant offering Western food, has three outlets in the CDB area. Revenue is down by 85%, and the owner has decided to close its Capital Tower branch when its lease runs out next month. Even when dining is eventually allowed, safe distancing rules will still be in place, which means restaurants can only run at half their capacity.
Without the throngs of office workers, it might impair the ecosystems that rely on such traffic, so much so that when business operations fully resume, we might not see the same business district again.
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