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Sustainable office design tour

The ECCT arranged a special tour of IKEAs sustainable office and hosted a panel discussion on the practical and legal issues that need to be addressed to ensure continued productivity under a hybrid working model. The event began with a tour of IKEAs new offices on the site of its Neihu store. This was followed by presentations and a panel discussion featuring panellists Howard Shui, Partner at Baker McKenzie, Taipei Office, and co-chair of the ECCT’s Human Resources committee; Chafic Nassif, President of Ericsson Taiwan and Co-chair of the ECCT’s Telecommunications, Media and Content committee and Gennie Yen, President of Veda International Corporation and Co-chair of the ECCT’s Corporate Social Responsibility committee. The panel discussion was moderated by Linda Wang, Sustainability Manager at IKEA.

Guests were first taken on a guided tour of IKEAs recently refurbished Neihu office. The office has been designed with hybrid working in mind. Only a few selected staff, such as those in HR, finance, and top executives, have permanent desks while other staff have the option of using one of the shared spaces when they need to work in the office. One section of the office space has work station areas for specific teams so that they can arrange to work together when they are in the office. Each work station includes only desks, chair, monitor and keyboard so that employees can plug in their own laptop computers. The height of all desks can be adjusted if people prefer to work while standing up.

Much of the rest of the office consists of a variety of meeting rooms, and spaces designed for collaboration and relaxation. There are several types of meeting rooms to cater to small or large meetings or interviews, with different types of furniture and video conference facilities. Rooms can be booked in advance by using an electronic device installed outside each room. The largest room is designed much like a library with desks for working as well as comfortable chairs. Like a library, no eating, talking, or mobile phones are allowed to be used in this space so that people can work without noise or distractions. There is also a large room designed for holding training sessions. There is even a special room with recording equipment to make podcasts.

Much attention is paid in the design to employee wellbeing. There is a large canteen and area with comfortable chairs for eating, drinking, and relaxing as well as other spaces designed for casual brainstorming or just hanging out for a casual chat. There is even a dedicated massage and meditation room as well as a KTV lounge.

Adjacent to the canteen area is IKEA’s kitchen lab, where chefs develop new food products. At the time of the tour, members of IKEAs logistics team were using the lab for a team-building exercise to make dumplings.

After the tour, guests sat down to hear presentations from the panellists.

In his presentation, Howard Shiu gave an overview of labour law challenges in the hybrid working era. He quoted from a report produced by Microsoft which summarises the new reality: “The future of work is here and it’s hybrid”. He noted that circumstances had changed significantly in Taiwan since the HR committee’s first forum held on 31 March this year. At that time, Taiwan was seen as a relative safe haven from the global coronavirus pandemic and neither authorities nor local branches of multinational companies (MNCs) had thought much about Work From Home (WFH) policies or practices. Things changed after the government implemented level 3 restrictions on 15 May. Since then, the MOL has announced guidelines on WFH (on 23 July), which provide a useful reference for companies operating in Taiwan.

Hybrid work is seen by businesses as inevitable. It is also proven to be workable and efficient, although downsides include loneliness and exhaustion if WFH is not managed well. Implementing WFH also requires changes and additional costs. According to Microsoft’s report, 66% of leaders say their company is considering redesigning office space. Meanwhile 73% of employees want flexible remote work options to stay while 67% want more in person work or collaboration post-pandemic. What the seemingly contradictory desires indicate is that employees want flexibility.

To thrive in this new environment, companies and organisations will need to create a plan to empower people for extreme flexibility, invest in space and technology to bridge the physical and digital worlds, combat digital exhaustion, prioritise rebuilding social capital and culture and rethink employee experience to compete for talent.

The MOL’s WFH guidelines require that employers should identify and assess the occupational safety and health risks of WFH, take necessary precautions to a reasonable and feasible extent and use the checklist attached to the MOL’s guidelines for compliance. To ensure compliance Shiu advised companies to establish a clear policy, separate workstations from living spaces if possible, and ensure employees take breaks away from their workstations. In terms of measures to ensure mental health, Shui advised keeping a healthy work schedule, providing education and training, arranging activities with colleagues to reduce loneliness and depression, and encouraging non-official interaction and communication, among others.

In his presentation Chafic Nassif noted that while the pandemic was a trigger to switch to WFT, his company had already embraced the trend prior to the pandemic.

He noted that Ericsson is leading in climate actions through its own activities (reducing emissions to net-zero emissions by 2030), halving emissions in its supply chain by 2030, developing and innovating its portfolio to halve emissions by 2030 and increasing climate action globally through ICT solutions (he said that digitalisation can enable a 15% reduction in global emissions by 2030).

When the level 3 alert was implemented in Taiwan on 19 May, 80% of Ericsson’s staff began to work from home. Although the alert level was lifted on 28 July, there was only a gradual shift back to office and since November about 40-50% of staff have been working in the office, indicating a truly hybrid model. Employees appear to support the new flexibility and remain productive. According to a survey, 90% of employees prefer the hybrid work mode and 94% said that their productivity either remained the same or even increased.

The speaker went on to highlight the conditions needed to allow employees to thrive: Leaders who empower others and have an inclusive leadership style, digital tools that make working flexible, easy and secure, work hours that are flexible and support a healthy work-life balance, offices that inspire and enable collaboration and social interaction, amenities and access to services that make life easier. The company provides guidelines of what it expects from employees but also recognises that the hybrid working just beginning. Through experiments and dialogue, it remains to be seen what works in the long run and what adjustments may be needed as the needs of both employees and customers evolve.

In her presentation, Gennie Yen said that a sustainability perspective should not just be focused on carbon emissions but also be extended to life-work balance, diversity, and inclusion.

The key elements of a successful hybrid workstyle are mindset (corporate culture and discipline and trust), policy & practice rules, facilities (hardware & software), communications and assessment. She noted that while the majority of employees may like hybrid work, those that don’t have ideal home office conditions may not. She also stressed that hybrid work will not work without a sufficient level of trust between employers and employees.

Hybrid work offers both opportunities and challenges. In terms of opportunities, it offers the chance of new business strategies (especially in terms of recruiting and retaining talent), preparation in advance for possible future pandemics and lockdowns, the acceleration of the digital transition and a good opportunity for organisational re-engineering.

However, there are also the risks of cybersecurity (information and communication loading & costs), physical and mental health of employees, newcomers’ training & familiarisation and morale and networking.

The event concluded with a panel discussion involving all of the speakers, moderated by Linda Wang.