COVID-19: Shaping the future of work

6 Apr 2020


With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak officially classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a pandemic, governments, businesses and communities are facing up to the reality of COVID-19. The escalating number of infected cases has led to the country being placed under the Movement Control Order (MCO) until 14 April 2020 and has further created headwinds on the commercial real estate sector.

Since 18th March, when the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia came into effect, many Malaysians have been forced to embrace working remotely from home for the first time and this has been a lifeline for many Malaysian businesses. Some businesses that were previously considering expansion and relocation of their offices are now delaying decision making. It is more crucial to stay ahead of the game despite any uncertainties caused by the global pandemic.

James Buckley, Executive Director of Capital Markets in Knight Frank Malaysia, said, “It got me thinking whether Covid-19 could permanently shift working patterns when normal times return.

“Evidence from the 2019 IWG Global workplace survey which asked 15,000 businesses across 80 countries, shows that the world of work has already changed dramatically even before Covid-19 arose. Over half the employees globally are working outside of their main office headquarters for at least 2.5 days a week, 65% of businesses say flexible working helps them to reduce CAPEX/ OPEX and manage risk and 85% of respondents confirm that productivity has increased in their businesses as a result of greater flexibility. 62% of businesses have a flexible working policy and 4/5 respondents confirm that faced with two similar employment offers, they would turn down the one that did not offer flexible working.”

Teh Young Khean, Executive Director of Corporate Services in Knight Frank Malaysia, said, “The upside of working from home is to avoid the long commutes, the preparation time and additional costs of being out of home. It can be treated as financial benefits given cost avoidance which becomes available to individuals.

L-R: Teh Young Khean, James Buckley
L-R: Teh Young Khean, James Buckley

“However, it takes a certain amount of discipline to work at home with the same level of focus as in the office. Individual maturity and trust have to be at a level where employees are able to carry tasks through with minimal supervision. Working from home may end up working for more hours than if work was carried out at the workplace, thus increasing work pressure levels. The same level of discipline is needed to focus at home to know when work should stop and normal home life begin.”

The COVID-19 outbreak is a chance for companies to re-examine the relationship between companies and their employees, and to elevate their corporate culture to be mutually beneficial for everyone.

James Buckley is also of the opinion that flexible / home working will be more accepted for certain businesses. In fact, not all remotely based employees are operating from their homes, many can choose to work from co-working spaces, coffee shops or restaurants.

“This does not mean the death of the office, but we could see a shift in the working model where it becomes more a place for connection, socialisation, creativity and innovation. Office accommodation is a high fixed cost and business leaders may consider whether it is actually necessary for all teams to have a dedicated desk. Hot desking, remote working and some provision of co-working can help businesses to reduce this fixed cost and also provides flexibility to scale up or reduce business space as and when required” added James Buckley.

Before the coronavirus chaos, the future of work was already expected to move toward working remotely. However, that movement has clearly been expedited. This startling change is not only changing how work is currently being conducted, but also how it will continue to operate in the future. To ensure business continuity, organisations are advised to have a solid networking infrastructure in place, enabling their employees to stay connected and be productive while working remotely.

James Buckley shared, “At Knight Frank, employees have the necessary tools to collaborate, communicate and work regardless of where it takes place and, in the weeks, leading up to the lockdown, we were busy transferring our work files to the Cloud. Thankfully we were well prepared. Work has become something you do rather than somewhere you go and our teams are content and productive.”

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