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Future Of Work: Flexibility, Wellness On Center Stage

Hybrid work is here to stay, emphasising communication, flexibility, agility, work-life balance and employee well-being

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An unforeseen pandemic transformed our perception of the way we work. From routine shuttling between the office, meetings, and home to a hybrid work-from-home and office is a fundamental shift that the workforce has undergone in the past couple of years. Agility is the new buzzword, but an organisation's need for productive and connected employees remains imperative. The seamlessness with which so many corporates have adapted to the new normal is encouraging. The need to balance employee flexibility and organizational productivity has led companies to explore hybrid work models. Hybrid work is now an accepted model with employees and would remain relevant. Accepting this sudden change in how we work is the new normal.

The good news is companies that successfully migrated to hybrid mode were able to create more productive workplaces, were able to embrace flexibility and retained valuable talent. Attracting employees to the office meant providing a better workplace. Organizations need to think differently about the shared spaces and services they provide, as well as the technology and amenities, to make their workplace attractive destination for their people. This is termed the "consumerization" of the workplace, whereby organizations will reimagine their workplace to be a magnet, or destination, that competes for people's attendance, much like retail and hospitality venues appeal to consumers today.

The biggest question and concern most organizations are confronting is how to calibrate successful hybrid work policies between different teams and people. Many companies have a legacy of senior managers who may have more traditional attitudes about how and where work is best performed, combined with a workforce that has unequivocally stated they want more flexibility. In short, the challenge is putting in place policies that are equitable and appealing to their workforces while maintaining organizational productivity. Research showed that employees were more likely to stay with companies that afforded them flexibility. Culture has long been viewed as a way to attract and retain talent. In fact, CBRE found that having the flexibility to work virtually was the topmost benefit job seekers sought.

With employers viewing the office as a place for collaboration and meaningful employee connection, the role of the workplace is shifting towards a more intentional work setting defined by its ability to bring people and teams together. This shift has marked implications for office design, planning, and workplace equity—or balancing the in-office and virtual employee experiences. India's office segment witnessed a huge boost in leasing post the relaxation of COVID-19 norms, pent-up demand, and a gradual return to office last year.

So how did this pent-up demand convert for the office market? According to the CBRE India Office Figures report, office space leasing reached 56.5 million square feet in 2022, recording an increase of almost 40% from the 40.5 million square feet in 2021 after the 2019 peak. Bangalore, Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, and Hyderabad had a combined share of approximately 75 per cent of the leasing activity, according to the report, which also highlighted that it was driven by technology corporations, followed by flexible space providers, engineering and manufacturing, and so on.

The first quarter of 2023 witnessed volatility caused by global markets, but the Indian economy is expected to withstand the slowdown apart from a temporary deceleration due toinflation. With this, occupiers' expansion and decision-making may be impacted by ongoing macroeconomic uncertainties brought by monetary tightening, inflation, and geopolitical issues. Yet, India remains the silver lining wherein companies would hinge as an appealing, cost-attractive location with skilled talent. This is evident from the office leasing momentum that grew by 9 per cent Y-o-Y in Jan-Mar'23, touching 12.6 mn. sq. ft.

Organizations are increasingly in favour of 'return to work' (RTO) with a hybrid mode in place to boost productivity and teamwork that may have been impacted during the extended pandemic period.

Reassuring a realistic RTO plan

RTO is focused on flexible working with a focus on employee satisfaction, work environment, and office amenities. Employers' primary objectives in the post-pandemic world have changed to employee well-being and sustainability, resulting in the redesigning of workplace environments to fit the newer world's requirements. Businesses will make more realistic choices to relocate to cleaner, contemporary office buildings in order to attract and retain employees along with more eco-friendly designs and practices in flexible office spaces along with constructing energy-efficient infrastructure.

Technology as a facilitator?

Work productivity tools that integrate the built environment has gained prominence to create an optimal work experience, connect employees, and enable hybrid working arrangements. Digital technologies will create smarter, more efficient buildings and a more connected employee experience, including safer and healthier workplaces. Future office operations will rely more heavily on deep technologies like AI and IoT. Technologies that enhance data protection, team integration, communication and cooperation, and virtual aid are revolutionising the workplace of the modern workforce and enable more adaptable and dynamic functioning. A hybrid model will not only survive but also thrive in the modern workplace by prioritizing employee-friendly practices and fully embedding collaborative technologies into an organisation's culture.

Way forward

We are in an era where we want to be human beings, we want fulfilment from work, we want to contribute to society, and we want to belong to a group of people who have the same vision and same goals. So the job for employees and businesses now is to utilize the lessons learned and to understand that hybrid work is here to stay, that communication, flexibility, and agility are fundamental, that work-life balance is key, and to consider the physical and psychological impact such changes are having on every company's most valuable resource: its people.

Author is the Chairman & CEO - India, South-East Asia, Middle East & Africa, of CBRE, a leading international real estate consultancy service

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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The author is the Chairman & CEO - India, South East Asia, Middle East & Africa, CBRE

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