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COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown has effectively shattered the premise that people need to go to “office” to work. In an almost overnight digital shift, the entire workforce of companies shifted to remote work. Once the COVID threat is past, will we ever go back to business-as-usual?

Long before the shutdown, experts were talking about a shift to remote work. In fact an HBR article cites several studies that point towards Work From Anywhere being the next big thing. However, inertia, the long-accepted workplace, and culture were slow to change. A stance that crumbled in the face of the coronavirus crisis. True there are still roles that cannot be performed without being on-premises, but it’s evident that a large majority of the workforce—if equipped well—can be productive working from anywhere.

This poses a question to large enterprises with sprawling campuses and a workforce numbering in thousands. Is their brick and mortar existence even relevant in the post-COVID world? Do they need such massive campuses and the resulting carbon footprints? Can they really justify the expense of large facilities and increased maintenance due to new sanitization requirements? What about the inconvenience they pose to employees commuting long distances?

Remote Work is the New Normal and There is No Going Back

If given a choice 99% of people would prefer to work remotely at least some of the time. Studies suggest that people are even willing to take a pay cut for the flexibility of remote working. While working in teams, water cooler conversations and feeling like part of a work community are compelling reasons to come to a workplace; sometimes commuting hassles are just not worth the trouble. Did you know Americans spend 19 days of the year commuting, and in countries like India the average commute time is around 2 hours per day—that’s 7% of a day spent on the road! People undertook that commute because their employers told them, “We don’t have a remote work policy,” or, “we don’t have the infrastructure for secure remote working.” But measures taken during the COVID-19 crisis have negated those arguments. If companies try to go back to the 100% on-premises model, they would be dealing with a very unhappy workforce indeed!

Companies are realizing the impact of remote work on costs and are already thinking of shifting some of their workforce to this model permanently. For instance, in a Gartner survey 74% of CFOs said they will shift at least 5% on-site employees to permanent remote positions.

Even keeping the employee sentiments and cost pressures aside, this is a great opportunity for companies to redefine the way they work. For almost a decade, facility management has been about cost optimization. Here is a chance for it to generate new revenue streams.

Work from home survey - Innovation Management

The Rise of the Tech Enabled Co-Working Enterprise and Why it Makes Business Sense

We believe the large enterprises of today can take a leaf out of the co-working book and open their doors to a new opportunity—one that helps them move from opex sensitive facilities to revenue sourcing ones.

Even today, large enterprises do not have a 100% facility utilization. There are unoccupied seats and bays that are just incurring facility management costs and not creating any value. What if this un-utilized capacity was offered to other companies—similar to a co-working model? And what if the company partners with other such co-working hubs across locations to create “office” nodes nearer to their employees. All these hubs and nodes follow hot-desking on a pre-booking basis, and employees can choose to work from a location closest to them, or where the whole team decides to get together for a huddle. This model will help pass on the facility management cost to other companies that share the premises and the revenue generated will more than make up for the additional utility expenses.

Coworking space info

Technology interventions such as IOT, data analytics, and AI etc. can make this process completely automated. For instance, if you decide to work from location A today, you get onto a mobile or web interface and book a space. You’ll get a QR code that will unlock access to the facility when you arrive there and an indoor navigation on the app guides you to your seat. You can use the same QR code to personalize your workspace with temperature control, smart lighting, and access to WiFi, collaboration tools, and VOIP etc. Further value add could be on-demand and instantaneous IT support and runner services for food or document delivery that enhances user experience. IT and operation teams can monitor requests from facility users on a dashboard and fulfill requests quickly and efficiently. Finally, at the end of the day when you check out, your company gets billed for the services you used. At the same time, the facility owner gets a dashboard view of occupancy rate and over time, this data can be accurately used to predict occupancy and related facility requirements.

The plus point is that all of these technologies and workplace solutions are already available and just need to be implemented the right way. While a 100% shift may not be feasible in the near-term, at least 40-50% of enterprise spaces can easily move to this flex model.

Ensuring a Safe Return to the Workplace

For those who need to or prefer to be on-site, companies still need to put in place measures for safety and hygiene. Smart office solutions can help make this return to the workplace safer by helping:

  1. Maintain social distancing in offices with heat maps and timely alerts on occupancy, space allocation, geofencing etc.
  2. Maintain hygiene by allowing touch-free access to premises and by sharing alerts on surface cleaning post-occupant move-out
  3. Provide additional services on demand such as availability of masks/gloves/sanitizers etc. as precautionary measures

A Win-Win Scenario

Shifting to a fluid workspace model is a win-win for both the enterprise and their employees. By cutting down unnecessary and stressful commute the employee productivity and employee satisfaction sores. At the same time, by opening up unused spaces for hire in a co-working model enterprise resources are more efficiently utilized, and it also reduces the carbon footprint, making it a more sustainable approach. However, making this fluid workplace requires technology enabled partnerships for multiple entities. Who takes the first step remains to be seen.

Would you prefer working in a fluid workspace? What would you expect from your company when the COVID lockdown is over? Share your thoughts with the InnovationManagement social networks.

About the Authors

Supriya Jain headshotSupriya Jain

Consultant | TEDx Speaker | Author

Supriya is a solopreneur with 12+ years of experience in technology and brand storytelling. She thrives on proliferating and enabling ideas that have the potential to change the world. She writes prolifically on the impact of technology, entrepreneurship, brand strategies, and women centric issues on various platforms. Her WEF articles can be found here.

Anu Pillai S headshotAnu Pillai S

Digital Transformation Leader

Anu leads the Digital Center of Excellence at Wipro’s EC&O vertical, that caters to engineering and construction, transportation infrastructure (airports, metros, ports) and smart cities. He has over 12 years of consulting experience to do with the evangelization and development of new-age digital solutions. He has worked with leading EC&O organizations across the globe on businesses transformation engagements.

DISCLAIMER: THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE THE AUTHORS’ OWN AND IN NO WAY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF AN ORGANIZATION