Webinar with IWG CEO
ECCT members were invited to participate in a joint regional European chamber webinar arranged by the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) on the subject of the future of work featuring IWG CEO Mark Dixon. The event was also open to European chambers in the region that are part of the Worldwide Network of European Business Organisations.
In the webinar, the speaker answered questions about how the growth of hybrid work is creating challenges and opportunities in reimagining the future of work and redesigning workspaces.
Dixon noted that the trend towards hybrid working had been some time in the making and that the shift in way people work has more to do with technology than real estate. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology that was already in place and showed that remote working could actually be more productive. As a result, work will not be the same again.
According to the speaker, 80% of companies are reviewing how they operate and how to support their workforces. Remote working extends the available talent pool for employers and creates opportunities for talented individuals. Hybrid working can also save costs. While the pandemic has sped up the trend towards hybrid working, the drive to improve sustainability has also been a factor as has employees themselves since a lot of employees prefer remote working for convenience and in order to reduce commuting time.
On the subject of cybersecurity, Dixon said that this is something that companies have to focus on anyway but remote working adds a layer of complexity to this because every remote work station has to be made secure. Dealing with this will require companies to upgrade as well as introduce new protocols.
Besides having the right systems in place to make hybrid working seamless, another challenge is to make employees feel comfortable and happy. This is especially challenging for new employees who may never have been in their company’s office in person. In the end it is all about putting people first, according to the speaker.
Dixon said that in the future all companies will have some degree of hybrid working. Being able to arrange meetings at short notice has sped up many aspects of doing business but some companies will have a greater need to bring together people for creative sessions.
Dixon noted that he used to spend a considerable portion of his working life travelling. Not having to travel has saved time but it has also eliminated forced downtime. Being always on brings with it added pressures. Moreover, people who work remotely for extended periods of time say that they miss human interaction. Some companies are addressing this by teaming up new recruits with senior colleagues to work together on projects. They have also made improvements to online training sessions. According to Dixon, it is important to bring people together periodically but it does not have to be often and the interactions must have a clear agenda and purpose. He added that what can never be reproduced online is socialising. This is an important part of getting to know people and transferring knowledge from experienced people to new recruits. Companies need to therefore set up collaboration days and make sure that activities are well curated and inclusive.
Dixon expressed the view that employees should be able to choose where they work, either at home, elsewhere remotely, or a company’s branch office (not necessarily the office that hired them), as long as they remain productive.
On a question about future offices, Dixon said that a lot of companies, such as major banks, are reducing their real estate footprints. This is not only to take advantage of digital technology and reduce costs but also to reduce their environmental footprints since the environmental impact of running offices and commuting by staff account for the largest environmental impact of many service-based businesses.
Many companies are switching from large offices to smaller offices. Dixon predicted that in five years’ time there will be less use of office space overall globally (although this does not apply to developing countries which are still growing strongly.
As to what the future office will look like, there is a clear trend towards green buildings. While it is difficult to achieve 100% carbon neutral buildings, Dixon said that IWG is getting closer to achieving this, especially in rural areas, which can use things like ground heat to reduce energy use from heating. As to the design of future offices, IWG has been working with new green building prototypes, such as green office interiors. He mentioned having 5,000 plants in one open office space, which helped to keep the air clean, reduce energy requirements and make it a friendlier space for people to work in. Another feature of offices of the future is that there will be more spaces designed for collaboration.
On a question as to whether people will want to return to the office, Dixon said that it depended on several factors. Most importantly is if employees view their home working environment and conditions more favourably than their offices. For example, since commuting in California is very slow and people living there tend to have larger and more comfortable homes, they may be reluctant to return to the office. Conversely, in places like China, where most people live in small apartments, which are not conducive to work, they may be more willing to go back to the office. In summary, he said the crucial point is providing places to work that are convenient and comfortable for people.
On a question about urban real estate, Dixon said that the drop in demand for office space in many cities will necessitate that many office spaces will need to be repurposed, especially in developed countries. However all companies will still have core office space needs, although they are changing. Companies therefore need to think about long term trends and plan accordingly. He concluded that change always brings opportunities and businesses need to adapt to take advantage of current trends.