Workplace Adaptation: 2020 and Beyond
COVID-19 suddenly transformed homes into offices as restrictions on movement were enforced with nationwide lockdowns and community quarantines. This global impact has made organizations worldwide relook at their workplaces and prepare towards a post-pandemic future.
An interview with Sombat Ngamchalermsak, Co-Founder & Director at Paperspace Asia, gives us a glimpse into Workplace Adaptation: 2020 and Beyond. Paperspace Asia is a collective of experienced strategists, designers, and change activists based in Singapore, Bangkok and Manila with expertise in workplace strategy, design, and change management.
An Evolution of Workspaces
Examining the history of workspaces, Sombat noted that such a common place for work began during the first industrial revolution, which happened between 1760-1840. This was the time when more factories were being built as people were hired for assembly lines and businesses needed more workers. The dingy environment of factories meant little sunlight for the workers and much smoke pollution at the workplace.
Eventually, the number of white-collar jobs grew. This led to the concept of people “working at the office” – dedicated hours in one building. By 1937, the open plan office design was created. It made use of large open spaces in order to improve employee collaboration. The staff worked on the lower floors while the managers were on the higher floors, revealing hierarchy and power distance in a professional environment.
Burolandschaft, or office landscape, was introduced in 1960. This concept originated in Germany. Managers had the same office levels as their staff instead of being on a higher floor. Departments were created and uniform rows of desks were removed.
The modern office was introduced in the 1990’s. Dividing walls were taken down and employees worked in open space environments. Sombat emphasized here that “the office suddenly became the branding element of corporations.” Your identity as an organization was reflected through your office space.
The hybrid workplace came about in the year 2000. This concept is a blend of different kinds of workplaces into a hybrid form. This design synthesizes all the best trends in workplace design so far.
The impact of COVID-19 on workplaces
To cope with a health pandemic in 2020, companies were forced to implement remote/ working from home to comply with government mandates. With the accelerated adoption of remote working, new perspectives and realities emerged, prompting questions around continued investment in real-estate and offices.
The Three-Phase Map
When asked what workspaces in 2021 could look like, Sombat thinks that there should be current mechanisms to help bring the current workplace philosophies into the new normal. Paperspace Asia uses a three-phase approach to support organizations moving forward:
Phase 1: Short-term
This is about moving employees back to the workplace. A review should be done to evaluate the organization’s experience in remote working. Besides hearing the employee voice, human resource departments should conduct surveys as to how their employees feel and their readiness for change.
Phase 2: Mid-term
In this stage, analysing longer-term goals and optimization is key. Companies should dedicate at least six months to a year to figure out which strategies to implement. New behavior and culture should be defined in the long run.
Phase 3: Long-term
The last phase is all about embracing new purposes and work practices at the workplace. A Change programme needs to be developed and implemented for a seamless transition, and to ensure that all teething issues are addressed timely as employees settle into their new ways of working.
It has been said that there are always two sides to a crisis: an opportunity and a threat. For Sombat, COVID-19 is definitely an opportunity that opens the door for companies to re-invent the workplace. Noting that experimentation is paramount when adapting to this crisis, Sombat believes that maximizing coworking spaces could be a step in the right direction.