Would You Return to This Post-Covid Office of the Future?

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    After more than a year adjusting to work from home, businesses may need to consider full-office makeovers to lure employees back after Covid-19, from ergonomic office chairs to phone booths and sound buffers.

    That’s the mission of Paperspace Asia, a Southeast Asian boutique firm that connects designers, lighting consultants and sound engineers with companies grappling with one of the biggest global post-Covid labor market challenges.

    For Narita Cheah, co-founder and director of Paperspace Asia, office spaces must emphasize “empathy and collaboration” and elevate three main principles: people first, dynamic and purposeful workspaces, and a culture of experimentation.

    “There’s been a general, larger awareness for what wellness now looks like when people return to work,” Cheah said. “Are they getting the best access to natural daylight, what sort of ergonomic facilities are there, and more and more the social context to build human capital becomes really key. Can you do that with desks all over the workplace and a tiny pantry in the corner? I doubt it.”

    Even for areas where the virus has ebbed and vaccinations have continued apace, workers aren’t eager to rush back. Analysts at HSBC Holdings PLC reported last month that 82% of employees globally say they’d like to work remotely at least one day a week in the future, citing Colliers International data. A separate CBRE survey showed a plurality seeking two to three days a week.

    McKinsey & Co. have said that not only do cubicle farms need to be eradicated, but “offices must be places of magic.”

    Paperspace Asia’s offerings were on full display earlier this month at the National Design Centre in Singapore, which houses its regional headquarters. Visitors could test an array of seating, lighting, sound devices and other furniture from the firm’s catalog, as part of an exhibit supported by the DesignSingapore Council, a government agency.

    A significant focus was placed on space efficiency, in an attempt to match the reality of future office attendance with what businesses will be willing to pay. The McKinsey report argued that “the traditional allocation of 70% of space to desks and offices needs to be fundamentally challenged.”

    In addition to weighing the mix of options in a “hybrid office,” a redesign obviously comes with a price tag. And while many firms have expressed interest in how to build that “magic” space, Cheah said they’ve been slower to pull the trigger. Businesses with commercial real estate leases that expire over the coming quarters in Singapore should seek to start from scratch, she said.

    Meanwhile, a younger generation of workers who have, even pre-Covid, said they prioritize flexibility and a forward-thinking nature of organizations over salary are more likely to look past openings at firms who cling to more traditional setups and routines.

    That also means taking into account climate and environmental factors as well as digitization in these office-outfitting efforts.

    “There is a strong correlation between the level and depth of digitization and productivity,” the HSBC analysts wrote. “Real estate is not the least digitized economic sector, but it is clear that many opportunities remain.”

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