Love/Work: hybridity and balance in the post-COVID working environment

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Contact Terence Seah, Head of Hong Kong, Singapore and Shenzhen
terence.seah@benoy.com

With the new normal brought about by the pandemic, companies around the world are contemplating the future of their working arrangements. Bring employees back into the office? Keep them working from home? Or devise new hybrid solutions? Here, Terence Seah, Head of Hong Kong, Singapore and Shenzhen at Benoy, answers questions about Benoy’s exploration of workplace models for the post-COVID landscape.

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What’s your perception of the current mood around returning to offices, do you think it will ever be the same again?

There seems to be a really mixed view about how companies should manage the return to work. On the one hand, there’s David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, saying he wants all his people back in the office and calling remote working an aberration”. JP Morgan have been similarly emphatic in their edicts about office returns. European companies have been reducing office space in a bid to expand the homeworking model, while in Asia the shift back to the office is already underway.

It’s an interesting debate. For innovative, ideas-driven companies and institutions, having people together nurtures collaboration and enables creative exchanges and encounters. But the past year has also shown that remote working works. People can be productive, disciplined and engaged in more informal settings. 

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Do you see a change in what people are looking for from their working environments/​routines?

According to research undertaken by Colliers International, 54% of employees surveyed in Asia Pacific said they experienced no change in productivity when working from home during the pandemic. Around 50% said they would prefer to continue working one-to-two days a week from home, while 88% reported that their manager is able to manage remotely.

What’s more, 63% said they were happier with their work-life balance as a result of homeworking, while 77% still felt connected to their team. There’s a financial value-add as well, with US $11,000 saved per year per employee on a 50% homeworking model. It’s fairly compelling evidence. 

And then, anecdotally, there are the things people say they miss: clarity of priorities’; separation of life and work’; regular lunches’; bumping into co-workers’ – the more social, convenient and collegiate aspects of office life. 

Overall, the research makes a strong case for balance. It suggests that the hybrid model, which accommodates a mix of both remote and office-based working, is likely to become a popular and effective option as we emerge from the pandemic. 

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How are you using these trends and preferences to inform your workplace projects?

At Benoy, we’ve been assimilating a range of data and information to explore new design models for workspaces, places and scenarios. This project, which we call Love/​Work, has involved exploring the concept of worktribes’ to help us conceive designs that respond to the needs and wishes of different employees. So, for example, we’ve been looking at the workplace profiles and proclivities of Bosses’ (fine diners, investors, Boomers); Digital Nomads’ (vloggers, gamers, Gen Ys); and Boh-Hommes’ (café hoppers, joggers, Gen Zs), among others.

We’ve also devised a range of workscape’ models to accommodate different configurations of remote and office working. For example, the Monoscape’, a conventional model whereby a company occupies a floor in an office tower, often in a central business district, with all employees working from one fixed destination. Then there’s the e‑Scape’, which is a work-from-home-plus-HQ model, with employees working both remotely and from a central office location. Or the Socialscape’, which is a co-community’ bringing several businesses and sectors together in one common place, with shared resources, amenities and facilities. 

The Performancescape’, meanwhile, is based on a flex-and-core scenario. Here, a landlord allows a company to rent space on a long-term basis for their core operations, with an additional flexible workspace to accommodate changing staff and business needs. And finally, the Miniscape’, a hub-and-spoke model where a company retains a central hub but redistributes a percentage of its workspace across several satellite offices. 

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Why the different scenarios? What do they offer?

Each model or scenario offers different benefits, such as cost savings, operational consolidation, shared resources or inter-business collaboration. But crucially, they are tailored to the very specific needs of the different worktribes’ we’ve identified. For example, Bosses’ are most likely to thrive in a Monoscape’ office, which reinforces a strong sense of corporate identity and enhances employee interaction. Digital Nomads’, on the other hand, will be more inclined towards an e‑Scape’ environment, which promotes a good work/​life balance and flexibility.

It’s about ensuring the workspaces we design are relevant and responsive to the aspirations of very particular end-users. And in each scenario, we’ve explored how energy, emotion and environment can be combined to optimise productivity and creativity. 

Having worked on major workspace projects around the world, we’re already well versed in many of these evolving typologies and models. The Alibaba Jiangsu Headquarters in China, for example, is a showcase in smart city communities and integrated corporate environments. Meanwhile, our Silvertown project in the UK is an exemplar for shared space economies and flexible mixed-use typologies.

As the world returns to work, developers need to know who their target tenants are and how their needs can be met. Through our Love/​Work approach and expertise in workspace design, we can show them the best way forward.

Silvertown rectangular
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Conventional model EN
10 Particular Aspect of the project Ali Bridges
Silvertown rectangular
Image 2