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The Secret Sauce

Rebooting Your Workplace Post-COVID19 

The “New Normal” of Workplace Culture

In a podcast interview conducted by The Standard, Ken Nakarin talked to Paperspace Asia’s Co-Founder and Director Sombat Ngamchalermsak about the future of workspaces after COVID-19. Topics brought up included the history of workplace design, the pandemic disruption, the “new normal”, and how businesses can adapt to the changes to stay afloat.

The History of Workplace Design

Sombat first explained how workplaces have always been undergoing transformations when significant changes in the world occurred, starting from the first Industrial Revolution. Before that, people didn’t only work from home – their workplace was their home. 

Tailors, carpenters, farmers, and other artisans all operated at home until the Industrial Revolution. People were then supplanted from their homes to gather at one place, like a factory, where they could concentrate on their work. As time went on, offices changed with the great depression and the digital revolution – from the factory production line to the open-plan office to the Cubicle Farm and finally, to the Townhall workspace.

Today’s offices are a combination of many eras, depending on company culture and preference. However, Sombat predicts another massive shift in how the workspace will be designed as an effect of COVID-19.

The Pandemic Disruption

We are currently living in a transitional phase, Sombat says, as COVID-19 is a seismic shift for humankind that will shape the socio-economic compass of the future beyond any financial crisis in the past. Health and safety are top of mind concerns for the majority of the population,  thus going back to the previous modus operandi is likely to be seen as unsatisfactory and unsafe. 

This turning point is a historical one. Company executives need to think carefully about their next course of action, as it is crucial for their survival. 

Sombat suggests that companies must stay flexible with how they work to stay afloat. These days, it is a must for people to keep in contact digitally and work with teams through virtual conferences. It is not safe to gather a large number of people in offices for physical meetings. With this, the need for physical offices will decrease as there’s no one using them. However, it’s not realistic for everyone to work from home all the time as it can be hard to focus. There is not one catch-all solution for everyone. Each firm will have to set the ratio of its employees working from the office and from home, but the work from home trend has clearly gained ground. 

When asked by Nakarin on any advice he can give to entrepreneurs and firms, including anyone whose job relates to office rental and design, Sombat gave a three-step action plan. The first, as the government allows more businesses and offices to resume regular operations, it is essential to implement the health protocols and to prioritize the safety of employees. After six to twelve months, firms will proceed to the second step: meeting with their executives and board members to adjust internal policies and office cultures to the new normal. 

The third step then occurs within the next three years, with firms having to evaluate themselves from all the experiments and test-fits piloted during the second stage. They will have to ask themselves: What is successful? What is not? What do the employees think of the changes? This process will take on a more egalitarian approach to indicate future  real-estate utilization – where your people’s voices matter. 

A Skill-Based Workplace

According to Sombat, the quicker firms can find their “sweet spot”, the faster they can come up with new business models and new operation methods. He believes that this pandemic will set into motion the next era of workplace design and culture. Sombat mentioned being interested in the concept of a “skill-based workplace” where before COVID, it used to be “activity-based.” The emphasis is on how each employee’s skills can contribute to the company in a skill-based workplace.

With the ongoing workshops with clients from different regions, Paperspace is currently exploring the feasibility of the future workplace being skill-based by understanding how workflows and tasks have changed. This is done to establish what works best face to face and digitally, which will then inform a new matrix and a new-look workplace. 

With the instability ushered in by the pandemic, an entirely new service beyond coworking spaces might emerge. The clear solution posited is a balance between working from the office and home. In uncertain climates as such, Sombat concludes with an organizational and individual imperative to stay flexible and adaptable.

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