The pandemic has prompted firms to think hard about what offices are for, with some concluding that many tasks are better done from home. In five weeks there has been a five-year acceleration of a trend towards remote working – and mainly thanks to a step-change in attitudes and acceptance. Overnight, companies and staff have demonstrated that working from home can be productive and practical; workers are not slacking off just because they are sitting in shorts. The days of long commutes into town only to process email, stage meetings and "show your face" could well be behind us.
However, remote working brings its own set of management challenges. Home workers are harder to monitor and so trust becomes more important. Recruiting and breaking in new employees – as well as mentoring junior workers – is hard virtually. Distance makes it difficult to generate camaraderie. Video calls lack the spontaneity of a normal meeting. Brainstorming and other creative activities are hard to foster—not impossible, but takes practice, and even then the process never quite feels the same way as when done in person. Moreover, many new ideas come from the weak links in networks—that is, people you meet occasionally. Such casual collisions have become rarer as people plan their day around a tight clockwork schedule of Zoom meetings.
So, despite the new positive revelations about the feasibility of distributed workforces, there is still an important role for the office to play. But the focus of the workplace will increasingly be on enhancing collaboration and extracting the value generated from being together. Office design will need to reflect this new emphasis. Meanwhile, other trends in floor plans may also reverse: hot-desking won't be so hot, for example, as social distancing requirements remain.
How should business leaders in Asia be thinking about this new era of work? What management principles should guide them as they chart out their new normal for offices? How can managers foster trust, creativity, camaraderie and morale of distributed teams? How do different cultural norms across Asia influence the spectrum of changes? What will the impact be on the economic vibrancy and real estate in Asia's central business districts and cities?
Join us for an exclusive conversation – on Zoom, of course – as we discuss the new world of work, the role of the C-suite leader in developing a healthy corporate culture during the transition and beyond, and what the impact will be on city life across Asia. For participants in Singapore and KL, we are delighted to be delivering a special lunch to you. When your registration is confirmed, we will shortly provide details of how to order and receive your lunch.
Please note that this event is limited to senior-level executives and per invitation only. If you are not an existing member of The Economist Corporate Network, but would like to learn how you can attend our events, please contact us using the details above.