Toward the Office-Less World

The nature of work is constantly evolving, but the pace is picking up in the era of digital disruption. The traditional norm of spending eight hours in an office staring at a screen is heading for obsolescence, as more people and their employers embrace flexible working schedules and remote work.

With flexible work — not just working from home but working from anywhere — poised to become the new norm, co-working businesses are booming, wile other business models are also evolving to accommodate changing work styles.

Digital communication and collaboration platforms have reduced the importance of physical proximity, creating the opportunity for more distributed teams, offering organisations options to reimagine workplaces; in some cases the “workplace” will be more virtual than physical.

Remote working is here to stay, but employers need to realise that the people doing it still need a sense of belonging and community.

However, according to the consulting firm Deloitte, overhauling the physical workplace might increase efficiency or reduce real estate costs for some organisations, but new challenges will arise. As their teams become more distributed, organisations have to focus on how to create connections and community to ensure productivity remains high.

Improved internet connectivity and the demand for more flexible work environments are contributing to more companies offering their employees a chance to work remotely.

US Census data in 2017 showed that 5.2% of workers in the country, or 8 million people, worked at home. An analysis of survey data by Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs showed that the number of people telecommuting in the US increased 159% between 2005 and 2017, to 4.7 million. Working outside a company’s main location and having a choice of work environment is now a key factor when choosing jobs.

With flexible work -- not just working from home but working from anywhere
With flexible work — not just working from home but working from anywhere

HIGH ENGAGEMENT

The polling company Gallup found that 43% of US employees now work remotely at least some of the time. ‘Work from Home‘ options help companies retain employees and may also improve productivity, it said, noting that engagement is highest among workers who spend three or four days a week working outside the office.

Experts say flexible work practices are here to stay, thanks to the rise of the sharing economy, which is also being felt in Thailand and other markets where startup culture is blooming.

Last week, IWG (International Workplace Group), a provider of flexible office space, opened a new Spaces venue at Phahon 19, offering 2,900 square metres of workspace in northern Bangkok.

“Digitisation and new technologies are transforming the world of work. People want to live and work how and where they want,” said Lars Wittig, IWG country manager for Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and South Korea.

“We are at a pivotal point of the workspace revolution. Businesses must adapt in order to stay relevant — utilising remote work and flexible schedules to engage and retain talented individuals.”

For a start, he said, companies need to wave goodbye to the conventional schedule and requiring employees to commute long hours just to get to the office. “The future of flexible working is moving toward the co-working and the co-living concept.”

The IWG Global Workspace Survey, which analysed data collected from 15,000 business people, shows that 80% of US workers would turn down a job that didn’t offer flexible working. Fifty-three percent of US respondents say having a choice of work location is more important than working for a prestigious company.

More than half (52%) said they now work outside their company’s main location for at least half the working week or more, and for 71% of people, a choice of work environment is a key factor when evaluating new career opportunities.

The survey also found that in the past 10 years, 83% of US businesses have introduced a flexible workspace policy or are planning to adopt one.

“Remote working has proven to be much more productive,” said Mr Wittig. “You lose less time commuting to work, and the company is able to save money on the balance sheet. The output is great and people want it because they thrive much better.”

CRAVING COMMUNITY

But as anyone who works from home knows, it can be lonely and distracting, and that is why the new generation of workers craves a sense of community. Many millennials, for instance, have become far more successful than their age and experience justify. One key has been the opportunity to learn from more experienced people in a congenial setting.

Even though people are embracing the idea of working whenever and wherever they want, Mr Wittig said they don’t really want to work from home. Ideally, they would like to work near home, in surroundings that make them feel productive and relaxed at the same time.

“Even when they are working remotely, they still yearn to belong to a community,” he said. “This is the element that needs to be incorporated in the work style.”

While most younger people enjoy working remotely, some believe face-to-face encounters are still important.

“Proximity matters,” said Natthasit Suksangpleng, a 22-year-old student at Chulalongkorn University.

He said he still believes that technology can’t completely shrink distance, and that face-to-face communication is essential for doing business, and for some professions, going to the office is still required.

Some employers seem to agree that a balance needs to be found. IBM, a company often perceived as a champion of remote working, in 2017 called many of its remote workers back to its office, citing the need for a shoulder-to-shoulder work environment. Some other enterprises followed suit.

Coming from a company that embraces remote working, Mr Wittig acknowledged that managers face new challenges. Employees’ performance needs to be managed with an agile approach.

“Today’s remote workers need nontraditional managers, and they can’t be managed using traditional management approaches,” he said

Millennials in particular don’t want to be measured by a time sheet; they want to be measured by results: “If you are an old, traditional manager who likes to see your employees outside your office, you may want to rethink that.”

But even though millennials don’t want to be seen every day outside the manager’s office, they still need individual recognition from their managers.

In any case, if companies do not embrace flexible work schedules, they may lose young talents.

“When people resign, a typical reason given is that the boss is not flexible enough. And when asked what they like the least about their job, they often say the commute,” said Mr Wittig, adding that human factors need to be considered at all times.

“Many critics may say that flexible work schedules are just a blip in time, but I say ‘No way’; millennials are thriving, and they don’t want to be tied down to traditional work styles,” he said.

This contention is supported by a report from Upwork, one of the largest freelancing websites, which explored the hiring behaviours of more than 1,000 hiring managers based in the US. It predicts that 48% of younger generation managers (millennials and some early Gen Z managers) are already holding director-level or higher positions, indicating a major influence on workforce planning.

These younger generations will make up 58% of the workforce by 2028, an increase of 38% from today, while 73% of all teams will have remote workers by 2028.

The sharing economy will also continue to thrive, most experts believe. The swift pace of change is affecting even big corporations, and many cannot predict their space requirements down the road. In many cases the office space they now occupy is too large for current needs as more people are working remotely. They are reluctant to build new offices or commit to long-term leases of several floors, but will opt for the services of a shared workplace provider.

“The regular workspace is vacant 50% of the time and the CFO may think they can save money from shifting to the new work style,” said Mr Wittig. “Even when the biggest corporations rent offices, they will not move in unless there is room for them to expand.”

And while much of the focus in the new world of work is on the needs and habits of the young, the fact is that as societies age, many older people are now working beyond the traditional retirement age.

“I never plan to retire,” said Mr Wittig. “I have always been working, and I haven’t really changed. In this regard, I have so much in common with the millennials”

LIFELONG LEARNING

Given the pace of change in today’s working world, Mr Wittig stresses that anybody could become obsolete tomorrow.

“For the older generation like us, we don’t have the luxury any longer as baby boomers to go back to class and learn new skills. We have to learn on the go.”

He also encourages older people to learn from younger generations, saying experience sharing should be a two-way street.

For older workers to thrive in the digital age, what is important is the ability to reinvent oneself, in his view.

“We should always be thinking, where will my industry be in ten years for now? Where should my company be and what should I do to stay relevant ten years for now?”

Sharing his own experience, he said reinventing oneself in the new industry is a humbling process. “You have to learn and to adapt all the time. The world is moving faster but it is also more interesting.”

Mr Wittig’s idea of lifelong learning resonates with the agenda of the Global Commission on the Future of Work, a report undertaken by the International Labour Organization.

It calls for a human-centred agenda for the future of work, placing people and the work they do at the centre of economic and social policy and business practice.

It calls for increased investment in people’s capabilities, and advocates lifelong learning which encompasses formal and informal learning from early childhood to adult life.

It also calls for a universal entitlement to lifelong learning that will enable people to skill, reskill and upskill, ensuring they will not be left out in the fast-paced world.

In this regard, the report said governments, workers and employers, as well as educational institutions, have complementary responsibilities to build an effective and appropriately financed lifelong learning ecosystem.

“Older workers will need expanded choices that enable them to remain economically active for as long as they choose and to create a lifelong active society,” the report states. “All workers will need support through the increasing number of labour market transitions over the course of their lives.”

To help people thrive inclusively in the digital age, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Thailand, has stressed that measures are needed to help older women who have to support their families. More than 50% of breadwinners will be senior citizens, and about 90% of them will be female and 20% will live below the poverty line, it said, calling on the international community to tackle gender imbalance in terms of work.

Lars Wittig, IWG country manager for Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and South Korea

Via: Bangkok Post

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