Many employees have had a taste of what work from home (WFH) is like due to the movement control order (MCO) periods in curbing the Covid-19 pandemic. While the pandemic left behind calamitous effects on practically every segment of the country's economy, on a positive note, it also gave rise to a new WFH culture. In addition, many businesses have speedily altered their workplaces to provide better protection to their employees and clients.
How is our world going to look post-pandemic? What is the new norm everyone keeps talking about? Here's what Co-labs Coworking (Co-labs) director Benjamin Teo and WeWork head of growth for Southeast Asia and Korea Ray Tan had to say
"When Co-labs Coworking reopened on May 5, we had to swiftly adapt and maintain a positive mindset to survive and thrive. This is because as co-working space operators, we are responsible for ensuring our members transition smoothly as they return to work.
"This includes addressing concerns pertaining to shared open desk areas and implementing necessary health and safety measures. Currently, we continue to review floor layouts for our future spaces, such as increasing the ratio of our premium office suites (private offices) within the workspace and offering larger suite areas.
"We also are building larger autonomous anchor tenant areas, which can be designed and built according to ongoing business needs and demands," said Teo.
He said Co-labs is focused on reinventing itself by rolling out their Business Continuity Plan (BCP) package, which offers remote workspace solutions for enterprises seeking alternative workspaces to accommodate split-team operations.
"During the MCO period, as our business is classified as non-essential, we had to close. During this time, we got creative by engaging our community virtually. We quickly pivoted to shifting our community activities and events online and held virtual events that were well-received by our digital audience and community," he said.
He added that when they reopened members were encouraged to return at a reduced capacity to monitor the number of members effectively.
"Many of our members comprise small to medium businesses who suffered financial losses during the MCO and recovery period and have applied for rental rebates or requested to freeze their membership temporarily," he said.
He said that Co-Labs Coworking introduced a deferred payment scheme and froze memberships during the MCO period to help cushion the financial impact on their members.
In regards to whether companies will transition to working from home even after the pandemic, Teo said in the short term, most companies have practised either a prolonged work from home policy or implemented split team operations as part of their BCP.
Over the longer term, as businesses return to work safely and things normalise, it is inevitable for the workforce to return to work at some point.
"Let's be honest, no amount of virtual communication can completely replace face-to-face human interaction," he said.
He added: "Given social distancing has now become a norm new workspaces will take into account social distancing measures in terms of design-and-build, whereby we will be increasing the supply of larger, autonomous workspace areas to cater for larger companies and revising floor plans to accommodate more private offices and modular desks, which allow seating arrangements in multiple configurations.
"Also, we will be reducing the provision of shared amenities such as nap pods, recreational lounges and breakout areas.”
Tan pointed out that WeWork was able to react swiftly to the situation in Malaysia, as they had resources and best practices from their colleagues in other parts of the world like China, which had already been dealing with the situation.
"The outbreak also called for a greater need for transparency and open communication between co-working spaces and members. We were cognizant that our members relied on us to keep them updated on the measures which were being taken. In turn, they had the information they required to make decisions regarding their own employees and operations.
"In line with government guidelines, WeWork remained only keycard operational throughout the MCO period in order to support our members in essential industries," he said.
Tan added: "Our members vary across industries and sizes and during this period, there was a need for physical workspace to support their BCP strategy, which for some companies, was a legal requirement and for some, a space to continue essential operations.
"Rather than looking at it as a challenge, we saw companies reevaluating their operations commitment to focus on efficiency, flexibility and scalability."
WeWork was very focused on working with its members to understand their needs, Tan explained.
The shift to remote working during the pandemic has proven that there are alternative and flexible workspace arrangements for creating a productive work environment.
In this new normal, WeWork expects this trend will continue, as companies look at alternative workspaces with cost considerations in mind.
"WeWork has always ensured that our spaces are thoughtfully designed to be conducive work environments which empower productivity, innovation and collaboration. We will continue to adapt so that our members can continue to benefit from this, without compromising distancing requirements or safety measures.
"In preparing for the post-MCO environment, WeWork's top priority is to ensure their members' and employees' health and well-being. We've worked to enhance our spaces to maintain hygiene, safety and physical distancing best practices, broken down into three core focus areas: Prioritising personal space, Increased sanitisation, Behavioral signage," Tan said.