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The big question: which workers get to stay at home?

In our latest briefing, we talk to an expert in behavioural science about making decisions on who should continue to work remotely in a hybrid model - and we take in positive soundings from the South Korean office market

In the latest of our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, created to reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional live conference series paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, we share perspectives on the latest developments in work and workplace. This edition is posted 19 August 2020.

A hybrid model of working

After the first wave of the pandemic, one of the biggest decisions facing companies right now is deciding which employees get to work remotely over the longer term – and why. In the latest in our series of our WORKTECH Kitchen Table Conversations, Kristine Woolsey, who leads the smart environments group at BCG (Boston Consulting Group), discusses the issue with WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson.

Speaking from her Pittsburgh home, Woolsey explains how she is currently working with 15 different organisations in North America all facing the same challenge – how to implement a hybrid model of working which combines some physical office presence with working from home. Woolsey is a behavioural scientist as well as an architect. ‘It takes people about three months to settle into a new habit,’ she says. ‘Remote is now our new habit.’

‘Who gets to work from home in the new hybrid model – and why?’

Kristine Woolsey has developed a framework for determining who should work remotely – and who should go back to the office. She believes that companies should look at three dimensions: first, individual preference – whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, for example, or have good or bad wi-fi at home; second, the nature of the work itself – whether it is individually focused or more collaborative; and third, complexity – whether or not the work requires complex conversations that are best done face to face. Woolsey describes how launching a major new project may require some initial office-based interactions but then team members can deliver specific aspects of the project remotely.

The new hybrid working model that is now emerging in the US will have significant implications for real-estate, says Woolsey. ‘The biggest question I always get from clients is this – “I’ve got all this empty real estate, should I sign the lease that’s up this year?”’

View WORKTECH’s Kitchen Table Conversation with Kristine Woolsey here:

Can South Korea buck the trend?

As workplace economies around the world brace for contraction in the aftermath of the Copvid-19 crisis, there is one place where the prospects for the sector look bright in the medium to long term. This is South Korea, whose office market has been buffeted by the pandemic in the short term but is set to bounce back in convincing fashion.

According to a new report from commercial service provider CBRE, South Korea is currently struggling as elsewhere with slower economic growth, concerns over workplace hygiene and density, and the increased adoption of remote working which affects leasing activity. But over time, there may be an increase in space requirements from companies needing to comply with social distancing guidelines.

The report, entitled ‘The future is flexible: The evolution of work and the office in Korea’, covers the effects of accelerating changes in the office market due to coronavirus.  It looks in particular at coworking centres and activity-based working environments that typically feature unassigned seating, relatively high density, and close interaction between users.

‘There may be an increase in space from companies needing to comply with social distancing…’

CBRE Research conducted interviews with four major co-working operators in May to identify the status of the flexible space market and its prospects, finding that the coworking market has been largely unaffected by Covid-19.

In the coworking sector, many operators have been forced to postpone tours for potential new tenants and delay events. But researchers identified no major cases of corporate tenants cancelling memberships or returning space. In fact, according to CBRE, the first half of 2020 has seen an increase in leasing and membership enquiries from potential tenants seeking short-term office space as a solution to social distancing, and as a consequence of needing to locate staff across different locations to mitigate risk.

In South Korea, the sudden shift to remote working is seen to have been largely successful, with companies reporting higher employee satisfaction, increased cost savings, and similar levels of productivity. This, says the report, could encourage companies to permit employees to work remotely more frequently and on a larger scale in future.

The report concludes that the coming years are likely to see office occupiers in South Korea rationalise their property portfolio with a range of a range of safe, well-designed amenity-driven, high-quality spaces to support employee and business needs. Could this be a pattern repeated elsewhere? Read the CBRE report here.

Augmented work is coming

Finally, don’t miss our next live WORKTECH webinar which takes place on 1 September, featuring Paul Edwards of Australian developer Mirvac in conversation with Jeremy Myerson of WORKTECH Academy. The webinar looks at the future of augmented work in the era of AI, robotics, machine learning and smart buildings. If humans and machines are set to work more closely together, what does this mean for workplace design and organisational change? The webinar will launch a new research report jointly produced by Mirvac and WORKTECH Academy entitled ‘Augmented Work: How New Technologies are Reshaping the Global Workplace’. More details here.

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