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The workplace of the future

Office developments will become more flexible, efficient as well as sustainable, while promoting employee well-being

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THE workplace that we know and experience will be vastly different in a couple of years, and possibly unrecognisable by 2022. Workplace strategy used to be about maintaining facilities and trimming expenses, but it is not that simple anymore. Businesses need to create workplaces that attract the best talent, adjust to shifting workforce demographics, and promote employee well-being while staying ahead of new demands and technologies.

To help businesses as well as landlords and occupiers make the most of opportunities and prepare for the future, we have identified five major shifts that we believe will contribute to the development of the workplace over the next five years.

  • Make employee experience a core part of business strategy

According to a study by Mercer, happy employees on average have 31 per cent higher productivity, 37 per cent higher sales performance and a level of creativity three times higher than their unhappy counterparts. A research by Gallup also shows the direct impact that engagement and productivity can have on the bottom line: public companies with engaged workforces report higher earnings per share. The implication is that even modest improvements in employee productivity, engagement and satisfaction in the workplace can have significant returns on investment.

Most companies see a tie between productivity, engagement and employees spending as much time as possible in the workplace. Companies like Google have set the standard in shaping behaviour this way - bringing fun, food and relaxation to the work campus.

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Within some company cultures, relaxation and socialisation are strategically centred " off campus" . With this approach, the key is locating around the right features and conveniences, taking into consideration the relevant adjacencies to make the workspace and the surrounding environment attractive and effective for employees.

Smaller companies might find it difficult to provide a cafeteria or other amenities within their own offices. Thus, it is becoming increasingly important that landlords of multi-tenant facilities provide these kinds of spaces for occupants' shared use. Service providers such as Convene work with building owners to create conferencing spaces and casual meeting hubs, complete with food and technology that draw tenants in. Online app platforms such as Breather offer booking systems for local and international flexible space requirements, enabling the operator of the shared spaces to access an existing pool of members.

  • Build the Internet of Workplace

The Internet of Workplace (IoW) will be a key element to benefiting the way in which we all work. It could well be about tapping into a higher plane of social interaction and productivity between colleagues - many steps further from what we see and value today regarding collaboration.

Companies need to shift their strategy on digital integration in the workplace from nice-to-have amenities to core functionalities that make the workplace reactive and proactive to get ahead of the automation impact.

  • Create a workplace that makes people healthier

It is no secret that a healthy workplace and workforce leads to healthy revenue numbers. Less sick days, higher energy and greater consistency among employees means that productivity increases. In several of our offices in Europe, we launched a programme where employees wore Fitbits and answered daily questions to assess exercise levels, stress levels, productivity and overall well-being. Employees can translate data-driven insights into decisions on how, where and when to work to balance productivity and wellness.

Move on 15 years and we should see no boundary between the office and lifestyle, and the office and health in general. With so many concepts being born in their infancy today, our future for wellness looks good, everevolving, all-encompassing and beneficial to all.

  • Ingrain coworking mentality in real estate strategy

In 2016, there were about 11,000 coworking locations around the world. This figure is expected to more than double to 26,000 by 2020. By comparison, there are approximately 24,000 Starbucks worldwide. Taking reference from the coffee giant's location strategy, this means that there could soon be a coworking space on every corner.

Beyond this growth, the biggest shift in the coming years is that coworking will become a key component of many companies' real estate strategies - occupiers and building owners alike. Coworking is not just for millennial freelancers or tech startups anymore. Large multinational corporations (MNCs) are increasingly taking on space at coworking operators or integrating shared working spaces into their own environments.

Companies need to identify core versus flexible work spaces, where better decisions can be made on how to execute a real estate strategy that minimises cost and maximises flexibility. A 20 per cent flex in headcount that can be achieved using coworking space under an operator is viewed as a favourable position, rather than signing for an additional 20 per cent space or forcing desk sharing at higher utilisation ratios.

In Asia, MNCs such as HSBC and American Express have adopted this approach to help accommodate flexible growth and exposure to cost risk, as well as using these spaces for shorter-term projects and innovation space, rather than committing to costly and restrictive traditional lease terms.

  • Enable an agile organisation

Companies should make strides towards enabling an agile organisation. The future of the workplace will hold the agility of employees within an organisation as a key performer for increasing productivity and profitability.

Agile working does not just mean hot desks and touchdown stations, although it does include these items. Developing the right workplace strategy will address these items as well as any need to change management.

The workplace of the future is where workers are allowed to work where they feel most comfortable and still achieve the results that their employers want. By aligning work environment with agile workplace concepts, companies will be better placed to adapt, and stay one step ahead of change.

As the workplace of the future evolves over the next decade, we anticipate the key drivers to be technology, people, culture and flexibility.

Developers and landlords will build for flexible and transient working environments focusing on securing long-term tenants who can "breathe" within the space that they occupy, enabling them to remain occupiers within the development even when they outgrow their space. Office developments will become more flexible, efficient as well as sustainable, and will engage the wellness of people as a standard and mandated consideration to attract the best calibre of tenants.

The writer is head of office services of Colliers International Singapore

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