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COMMENTARY

Flexibility without compromising on productivity

When the dust settles from current events, the world's biggest remote working experiment will be over. What will we have learned?

REMOTE working is often talked about in mainstream front offices, but until recently, rarely executed at scale.

In the past month, organisations equipped with the right policies - and an empowered workforce - have transitioned relatively seamlessly in response to immediate needs for social distancing while maintaining business continuity.

In contrast, underprepared companies faced the risk of productivity loss due to numerous challenges. Some of the issues they did not foresee ranged from the inaccessibility of digital files and business platforms to ineffective management approaches. Many organisations realised too late that they did not have the right type of technology to support remote working.

This month, CBRE's two-office strategy in Singapore seamlessly switched gears in response to Covid-19.

Activity-based work areas were easily repurposed to accommodate split teams between offices; distinct neighbourhoods and work zones enabled social distancing; our technology infrastructure supported secure access to work files and to the CBRE platform.

Here's what you need to know to make your business more agile when implementing remote working as a business continuity plan (BCP) strategy.

More flexible workplace portfolios

Organisations with multiple offices within a city have more options to maintain continuity than those reliant on a single office.

Not all these spaces need to be owned or leased by an organisation. A core office can be supported by access to flexible space available "on-demand" from serviced office and co-working providers.

Multi-site strategies allow teams to be split between offices for social distancing, minimising the risk of a whole team being taken out of action due to an unexpected event, and ensuring business infrastructure continuity.

For organisations without a two-office option, a flexible approach to workplace design can also be extremely effective at managing volatile and unpredictable headcounts in the short and medium term.

Less paper, more cloud

Building resilience into daily work processes is also a good idea. Encourage your employees to migrate their work files to a secure cloud system as a matter of habit.

That way, if remote working policies kick in, they will be able to access their files easily and remain productive.

In addition to being the most environmentally-responsible solution, going paperless is a good way to ensure that your organisation stays nimble.

Any company that relies too heavily on physical documents is bound to be hampered by an indefinite period of remote working.

If your business is slowing down because you can't get important documents signed, then it's time to consider the benefits of a paperless office.

What happens if the lights go off?

BCPs involve much more than deciding which remote work policy to adopt. Companies should be thinking of possible worst-case scenarios from an operational standpoint.

For instance, what happens if you don't have access to your server and communications room for three weeks? Have you ensured that your infrastructure implements the necessary uninterruptible power supply devices and other technology fallbacks for BCP?

Factoring all these considerations into your everyday operations is essential so you can be prepared for any eventuality.

Avoid security risk and limit confusion

Imagine a scenario in which you tell your employees to start working from home, without offering any clear guidance on the protocols to follow.

This could lead to a wide range of potential security issues, such as employees working on public Wi-Fi networks, downloading confidential files to their personal laptops, or emailing business documents to personal email addresses.

To avoid these security pitfalls, always ensure that you are communicating clear guidelines to your staff.

For instance, when CBRE started implementing BCP measures in our Singapore office, we sent all employees a work-from-home toolkit, explaining how to securely access the company network and how to avail our digital collaboration tools.

This type of communication is essential to mitigate the inherent risks of remote working.

Manage work productivity differently

Are you still stuck managing work productivity by presence?

Many managers today still rely on "seeing their people" in order to manage them. They feel nervous that work won't get done if they are not around to supervise.

While that may be true for some junior staff or specific roles, most employees nowadays can be managed by their performance, removing the need for the constant physical presence of their managers.

Organisations that currently implement remote working solutions or desk-sharing workplaces are already familiar with shifting management style away from presence to performance, and are well prepared for an unexpected shift to substantial remote working.

Future-proof leaders

All too often, senior leaders are the last to adopt new technologies in the workplace. This may not seem like a priority when business is running smoothly, but a lack of preparedness can prove detrimental if a crisis strikes.

A leadership team that doesn't practise what it preaches won't instil confidence in its employees.

In remote working situations, leaders should set an example by proactively using all the digital tools recommended by the company.

This will encourage employees to follow their lead and more importantly, convey to them that the leadership team is forward-thinking and adaptive in challenging times.

Change management and efforts enabling leaders to lead from the frontlines where technology is concerned are always valuable time spent.

Address redundant work practices

When the dust settles from current events, the world's biggest remote working experiment will be over. What will we have learned?

Clearly, some organisations will have been better prepared for remote working and social distancing in offices than others.

Organisations will learn from this experience and implement better technology, platforms and processes to enable a rapid response to future unexpected challenges.

CBRE sees a broader learning and some bigger opportunities:

  • Why do we have so many unproductive meetings today? We didn't miss them when we didn't have them, so maybe we should make more permanent changes?
  • How do we define what work is and empower our people to be productive without standing over them?
  • Why don't we create a more diverse approach to balancing remote work and different kinds of flexible offices to create a better work experience for our people and a more efficient use of office space?

The rapid adoption of remote working at a global scale offers us the opportunity to really reflect on the future of work, and what the office of the future should look like.

And when we start building these workplaces, not only will organisations be well equipped to maintain operations and productivity when situations like Covid-19 arise, but we can unlock the potential for people to be happier and healthier at work and at home.

  • The writers are from CBRE. Grant Morrison is the head of Workplace, South-east Asia; Cole Purdie is the head of Digital and Technology for South-east Asia, India, the Middle East and Africa; and Peter Andrew is the executive director for Workplace Strategies, Asia-Pacific.