The new office plan


As the global pandemic continues to reshape lives in the new normal, so too has the workplace been in a state of flux. Be it working from home or going to the office in split teams with temperature checks and acrylic screens between desks, companies and employees try to find the right balance of safety, productivity and mental wellbeing.

Now comes the next solution which is fast gaining ground – coworking spaces. After an initial setback during Circuit Breaker, they’re now enjoying a resurgence as companies see the merits of a flexible work arrangement that includes some time at the office.

Roddy Allan, chief research officer at real estate firm JLL Asia Pacific, says: “As tenants return to their offices, business continuity and operational resilience are top priority – and since flexible space is fast and easy to acquire, companies are likely to turn to flexible solutions.”

He adds: “Companies will have to redefine their real estate footprint. Home offices, coworking places, satellite offices and the office headquarters will all have to co-exist – leading to a truly hybrid office model.”

A study by JLL Asia Pacific predicts that 30 per cent of all office space will be flexible by 2030, be it within a corporate’s own office or through third party operators.

Interest from new clients

Coworking operators say that, in the past few months, they have seen growing interest in companies who are keen to take up space with them.

“With remote working being the new work style, and cost pressures ahead of the unpredictable future, we are getting new enquiries from businesses of all shapes and sizes,” says Brandon Chia, JustCo’s vice president and head, for Singapore and Indonesia.

“The bigger trend is a rising demand from enterprises and large corporates, including Fortune 500 companies.” He says that large corporates are feeling the limits of working from home. “The crucial team bonding, face to face interactions and productivity are best achieved when teams are together. Companies still need to keep their teams together, combining working from home with some office presence.” He cites cosmetic giant L’Oreal and Tencent-backed Riot Games as two of JustCo’s new clients.

Increasingly, JustCo is seeing more traditional businesses adopt coworking for their employees. “Flexible workspaces are no longer limited to business continuity plans or swing space purposes but have become a main real estate solution because of its cost-effectiveness, as real estate cost is easily the top two expenses in any business, besides payroll,” says Mr Chia.

Jo Hu, CEO of Distrii Singapore, agrees. She says that pre-pandemic, businesses seen as more traditional, such as law and accounting firms, would have given coworking spaces like hers a wide berth. “They used to think that they couldn’t be seen sharing the same space as smaller companies or start-ups. They were more concerned with image,” she says. However, in the last few months, some have already signed on the dotted line and will move in next year. “They see that they are still able to have their own private suites and no longer need to have big offices with long leases.”

In just a month since it started operations in August, Arcc Spaces’ new flagship space at One Marina Boulevard has seen a 30 per cent take up rate with companies in finance, technology and professional services. Its chief operations officer Matthew Chisholm says he is “cautiously optimistic that we will get that number north of 70 per cent by year end” . The 19,000 sq ft space offers 270-degree views of the Marina Bay and CBD.

New product choices

While demand is there, operators are coming up with new products to meet clients’ changing requirements.

At Arcc Spaces, previous membership plans required companies to take up a whole suite to fit the number of employees that required workstations. But now it offers floating memberships and shorter monthly leases.

For example, a 50-person company may only require space for 10 workstations, so they would rent a smaller space for any of its 10 employees to use. It also offers add-ons, such as lockers and car park access, which not all its members may require.

“Demand has changed, and our focus now shifts from what the company wants to what the individual needs, and how do we support that person,” says Mr Chisholm. “And that includes our pricing packages.”

He also notes that companies are now asking for smaller suites since not everyone will be in the office.

Over at Distrii, working folks can buy F&B vouchers from its in-house restaurant Nalati and get to use the co-working space for free. Ms Hu says this promotion has been popular. “Clients find it is handy to work at Distrii, and be able to have their meals or entertain clients at Nalati,” she says.

Besides a permanent desk, ClubCo members can rent a work desk and ergonomic chair for their home office, for days when they don’t want to head out.

Self-storage expert Storefriendly has also jumped on the coworking bandwagon, with the launch of Workfriendly. Its CEO and co-founder Jes Johansen says Workfriendly was introduced because its Storefriendly customers were asking for a space to work. Like other coworking spaces, there are hot desks and shared spaces which allow for interaction and meeting rooms.

Workfriendly offers two options: Workfriendly Trade and Workfriendly Business. The former caters to businesses that send or receive goods on a regular basis, and need to be located close to loading docks. Workfriendly Business caters to companies looking for a more secluded environment, with space to store their inventory.

Mr Johansen says many of the Workfriendly users are e-commerce startups which need storage space.Its location in Paya Lebar means that prices here are considerably lower than coworking spaces in town.

Slightly more than a month since its launch, it’s already converting some empty floors in its building for Workfriendly use. Mr Johansen plans to open more such locations in the next few years.

Entrepreneur Yan Chen who owns Easven, a luxury bedding company, used to work from a coworking space at Suntec, but finds Workfriendly more affordable and spacious enough to store her inventory.

She likes the convenient location, clean environment and 24/7 air-conditioning, which lets her focus on selling rather than having to deal with the logistics of setting up an office and warehouse space. “Customers can also come here to have a feel of the bedlinen before they buy,” she says.

When WFH means work from hotel

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has disrupted the hospitality industry, but it has also created a new buzzword – workation.

Besides staycations, hotels and serviced residences are also opening their rooms up for work. For a fee, guests can work in a hotel room for the day and even enjoy perks such as free minibar, pool access, and discounts at in-house restaurants. Remote working no longer means having to camp out at a cafe……

For the full article, go to The Business Times.

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