As staff gradually get to return to the office, space optimization and workplace redesign will be a priority, says one study.

As lockdowns slowly fade away across the Asia Pacific region, how can staff returning to work in the office be assured of safety?

Many offices will be required by law to enforce social distancing. This includes setting up private, enclosed workstations, fitting social and break-out spaces with labels or physical dividers, or installing thermal imaging technology in the building lobby and reception areas.

According to a survey by property consultancy firm JLL, more than 80% of its clients have started to explore alternatives to keep their business operational or carry out certain modifications to their offices. Said Gonzalo Portellano, Head of Portfolio Design, JLL Asia Pacific: “In the short-term, organizations will need to find ways to deliver quick adaptations to the workplace, ensuring safety and comfort for employees. However, in the long term, business leaders will face decisions about their workspace usage against a backdrop where social distancing may be required for a protracted period.”

The real estate firm’s latest ‘Guide for Workplace Design Considerations’ outlines some short- to long-term priorities, including space planning solutions, tech-enabled experiences and operational functions that help corporates navigate the complex re-entry journey.

The guide also highlights how companies can re-assess their office footprint with decentralization scenarios or re-designs that can protect their businesses and people in the long run: Organizations may have to decide how to plan and optimize their office footprint in a cost-effective manner. The study points out that decentralized working hubs may soon be on rise, as these enable remote working from different locations, reducing commute times and increasing convenience for employees.

“Office re-entry will be a gradual and multi-phased journey that is likely to evolve as economies open up again,” said Martin Hinge, Executive Managing Director, Project & Development Services, JLL Asia Pacific.

In Singapore, JLL Singapore is starting to see more demand for office redesign in an agile yet safe manner, to achieve a balance between space optimization and occupant well-being at a manageable cost. In that sense, companies may start shifting their offices from prime locations into smaller, more versatile hubs distributed across the city. These tech-enabled hubs can be located in areas supported by good infrastructure, public transport connectivity and that offer lower rents.

Said Portellano: “Looking ahead, we anticipate that organizations will take a bold step in office transformation, be it with decentralization or spacing designs. The evolution of the office will no longer be about how people occupy spaces but how people use and interact with spaces.”

The consultancy foresees higher adoption of proptech solutions in Singapore’s workplaces to provide analytical insights on how employees are interacting with the office environment, so as to improve workspace planning and employee engagement strategies.