Taking safety, flexibility and cost into consideration, what does the future hold for workplaces and the workforce?

Dinesh Malkani, Founder and CEO of Smarten Spaces recently commented: “There is no doubt that the pandemic has made workers more isolated. As companies rethink the workplace with an emphasis on safety, flexibility and reduced cost, it is imperative that employee experience not fall by the wayside.”

Dinesh Malkani, Founder and CEO of Smarten Spaces

Smarten Spaces innovated quickly to create a solution that helps companies balance employee engagement and compliance by combining the entire back-to-work, contactless desk management and space management process into an easy-to-deploy solution allowing customers to get the full ROI in the shortest time possible.

Founded in Singapore in 2017, Smarten Spaces is now trusted by Fortune 500 companies in over 120 locations across 40 cities worldwide including New York, Chicago, London, Sydney, Moscow, Singapore, and more. 

Smarten Spaces’ technology is integrated with government-run National Digital Check-In processes such as Singapore’s SafeEntry, to ensure seamless employee experience, all within one app.

DigiconAsia discussed the evolving workplace and the future of work with Dinesh in an exclusive interview:

How have workplaces evolved following the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Asia Pacific?

Dinesh Malkani (DM): Across Asia Pacific, businesses have had to adapt to the pandemic, sparked by a massive shift to a work from home culture. At the height of the pandemic, an average of 68% of employees in Asia Pacific worked remotely from home.

Workspaces are now hybrid, as businesses emphasise complying with safe distancing guidelines and fostering a new culture of hybrid work. This has led to flexible workplace hours and split team arrangements, to minimise the capacity of and interaction between people in the office. To complement efforts in providing a safe environment for employees, we’ve seen the increased use of digital tools, from collaborative tools to digital contact tracing tools, in building holistic, connected workspaces.

However, the pandemic has also provided opportunities for businesses to rethink their workspace strategy. In fact, we estimate that the new normal will see businesses conducting 70% of its operations in office while allowing 30% of its staff to work remotely from home.

How do you envision the future of work playing out, and its implications on the workforce?

DM: The biggest change in the future of work will be the shift from fixed to flexible workspaces, enabled by disruptive technologies. Companies will find themselves moving from traditional matrix structures – marked by fixed seating arrangements and working collectively from the office – to one that is nimble and agile. Changes in workflow processes that will mark this shift include flexible seating arrangements, split-team rostering, flexible working hours, and increase in collaborative spaces within the office.

The nexus of technology, workplace and workforce is crucial in shaping this future. Technology will shape the digital employee’s experience as employees transition between remote and office work on a near-daily basis. As companies reconfigure workspaces with emphasis on flexibility, safety and productivity, employees will look out for opportunities to utilise workspaces for collaboration.

Technology will empower and foster new ways of working while helping the workforce comply to safe distance guidelines.

What approach should we take towards the role and concept of offices in the ‘new normal’?

DM: If there is anything the pandemic has illustrated, it’s that the concept of offices needs to be reimagined. While there is still considerable need for physical spaces, offices may not be an essential component for all employees. Many businesses are now required to use their office spaces more creatively to accommodate hybrid and work-from-anywhere models.

The ‘new’ office will need to be reconfigured to provide for an agile, digital and engaged workforce, and we see this trend continuing in the new future. For example, businesses in Singapore can only have half of their workforce in the office, and businesses will have to adapt to changing regulations. The challenge then lies in doing more with less, to optimise office spaces that can provide for hybrid arrangements and advance its digital capabilities.

While doing away with pre-defined individual desk arrangements for employees, offices should focus on creating collaborative spaces for in-person meetings. Such collaborative spaces will enhance employee engagement and experience. After all, be it onboarding new members of staff to bouncing ideas off one another, some things simply work better in an office. 

When it comes to employee experience, how can we empower and engage a remotely connected workforce, while ensuring compliance and safety?

DM: The workplace of the future has one purpose – to encourage collaboration.

Workplaces will need to balance employee engagement and compliance by putting both technology and human connections at the heart of the move to the workplace of the future. We expect to see more flexible seating, and a larger percentage of the office being dedicated to common spaces, such as meeting rooms.

To manage this, single-application technologies will empower engagement and collaboration at workplaces, making it easy for employees to find seats, available meeting rooms and colleagues for a productive day. These considerations will add to the employee experience in the future of work.

An integrated technology solution also allows for real-time data and insights into how much space is being utilised in offices, and how this can be rearranged. Human resource teams can also quickly automate planning for the division of remote-working and office-working teams, liberating employees from the hassle of manually administering these tasks. This frees them to focus on other areas of work, and also translates into cost-savings.

The resources saved can go into building innovation hubs that encourage creative and activity-based working. Employees world-wide want spaces where work and innovation are integrated, where there are opportunities for collaboration, and where connectivity is seamless.

What technologies will best enable us to design workplaces in this new reality?

DM: To thrive in the new reality, businesses have to invest in technology that covers four aspects:

  1. Convenience: A single-application platform that integrates all functions will be necessary for the optimal digital experience. As employees are increasingly on the move, transitioning between remote work and working from office, they will appreciate an application that allows them to seamlessly carry out all functions – from business to HR and admin, and more.
  2. Functionality: An automated space management and workforce rostering powered via Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based technology. These smart, intuitive technologies simplify processes in tracking the utilisation of office spaces and making resultant decisions.
  3. Modern: The use of sensors and other IoT-based technologies will further enhance the experience as it provides real-time data for analysis. This will enable the company to easily gain information on the percentage of employees working from home as opposed to working in the office; what time employees have entered the office; what the seating arrangements for the day looks like, and more.
  4. Integrated: As opposed to utilising siloed technologies, a robust integrated technology solution allows for seamless management and control over multitudes of information layers. These solutions will enable an agile and nimble workforce and workflow processes.