The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about the world’s largest work-from-home experiment. It has produced some fairly positive results and has allowed some business to survive, whereas those that fail to adapt to such a setup faced a much harder time.

Regardless, workplace dynamics will likely be transformed by the time everyone returns to the office again after coronavirus lockdown measures are lifted or eased. We are already seeing some shades of this as companies are now implementing a rotating roster of workers in the office.

“The office will not go away, but the need of the office space may reduce. People will always need physical space and they always want to meet face to face,” said Carol Wong, director and head of workplace delivery for Asia Pacific at global commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

For one thing, Wong added, hygiene would be among the chief concerns that employees will have when returning to the workplace, and companies will need to take new measures to minimise the number of hand contact surfaces. Many businesses have taken it upon themselves to introduce infrared temperature checks as well as the use of facial recognition for identity verification.

As previously mentioned, one of the biggest changes to the workplace since the outbreak has been the shift towards remote working in observance of social distancing.

“There will be a long-term adjustment in how we think about our location strategy … the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past,” Barclays CEO, Jes Staley, told CNBC reporters after the bank reported a fall in first-quarter profits.

His sentiments were echoed by Mondelez CEO, Dirk Van de Put. “We are looking for efficiencies as it relates to our ways of working since the crisis has showed that we can work in different ways and maybe we don’t need all the offices that we currently have around the world,” Van de Put said at a recent earnings call.

Taking a look at place such as Singapore, we might see glimpses of the future of work. Authorities have begun taking steps in recent years to build satellite locations for workers that are closer to their homes in the suburban areas. On the other hand, some places such as Hong Kong are seeing a rising desire to return to the office as the home environment might not feel very conducive to work in.

Apart from the physical changes that we can expect to see in the workplace, companies will also have to adapt their human resources policies as the world adjusts to the ‘new normal’.

“At many organisations, HR teams, policies, and programs are not prepared for the realities of the recovery,” said Adrian Ole, executive director of human capital consulting at Deloitte Southeast Asia.

“Some longstanding HR policies must be revised to account for the new realities of flexible ways of working, technology use, and health restrictions. For example, employers may wish to consider employee allowances that support the cost of working from home,” Ole continued.

The changing workplace will bring with it new opportunities and challenges. New roles will need to be filled, such as community managers to build connections and culture from afar with regards to remote workers. As more and more people work from home, more solutions need to be devised to ensure productivity and engagement remain high.


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