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Are We Really WFH... Forever?

July 16, 2020

No, this is not the new slang kids these days are using. WFH and WFHF have been circling the internet recently due to the pandemic. They stand for ‘Working from Home’ and ‘Work from Home Forever’, respectively. There's also their more progressive cousin in the remote family, WFA, for 'Work From Anywhere'.

Even countries with strong in-office cultures like Japan and India are playing their parts in the rising ‘remote work’ trend. Fujitsu, a Japanese technology firm, announced permanent work from home measures for its employees. One in five corporate offices in India has delayed their expansions as well. But despite many companies taking WFH measures, some companies still haven’t done anything remotely (get it) to adapt.

Let's look into this global adoption of remote work and their various acronyms, and why they'll likely stick around.

The Context

As we are all aware of by now, the pandemic has forced everyone to stay at home, and consequently, work from home as well. Many of us now work in complete dishevelment and in pyjamas, and without commuting! It works for a lot people, especially those for whom a traditional work schedule was restricting.

Worldwide, tech companies like Twitter, Facebook, Slack and corporate companies like Nationwide, AMP and Fujitsu have already announced remote-working to be part of their long-term strategy - the so-called "Work From Home Forever" measure. Companies understand that even when people start to trickle into their regular office-going routines, strict social distancing rules remain, making a return to an office routine pre-COVID not possible.

(Sources: Business Insider, CNN Business, Linkedin)

Ramesh Nair, CEO of real estate services firm JLL said a few things that resonate with the current situation:

  • “Not more than 14-15% of the entire workforce will work from home once things get back to normalcy.”
  • “Given that the balance 80% of the office is currently looking empty, companies are going slow on the de-densification part.”
  • “This is the opportunity for the liquid workforce to become successful.”

WFH are beneficial to the circumstantially unemployed, such as parents who have quit their job for their child. Since many are struggling financially due to economic challenges, there is an opportunity for them, and retired folks, to work again. Regarding de-densification, Fujitsu also announced that their office footprint will decrease by 50% by 2022.

Needless to say, transitioning to flexible working can save a lot in real estate costs. When almost half of the office isn't present at the same place simultaneously, it doesn't really make sense to stick to a large dedicated office.

Issues with WFH (and WFH Forever)

Hong Kong has an average flat size of 40 square meters, the size of three standard car parking spots in the city. Alongside Tokyo and Singapore, it is way more difficult for these cities to embark on WFHF measures. Despite office vacancy rates rising in recent quarters, Hong Kong and Singapore are said to “likely to survive work-from-home arrangements”.

Jonathan Hsu, head of research for Asia at M&G Real Estate said:

“We would argue that in places like Hong Kong and Tokyo, and to a certain extent Singapore, because we are living in smaller spaces, it’s not (best) for people to work at home. They either have no place to set up a workstation, or they do not have a quiet place to set up a workstation. It’s more productive for them to work in the office.”

But if the general corporate culture change, office-centric companies may consider offering flexible work to employees, in the form of staggered office shifts, non-traditional hours, and of course, being able to work from anywhere.

Not saying there will be changes to offices long-term anytime soon, but habits and office occupancy trends will change when companies realise the benefits to fully flexible work. Just considering the infamously high-priced offices in Hong Kong makes transitioning to a lower office footprint already a great idea.

(Source: CBRE, June 2019 and SCMP)

Workspaces are set to evolve. Traditional offices are not going to be erased, nor will remote working be permanent for everyone. However, the pandemic and the rise of WFH can be a deciding factor for companies to enter a new era of work.

What's the Alternative?

The whys of the WFH trend needs no explanation. Although Nair said that no more than 15% will continue to work from home once things are normal again, we don’t know when “normal” will ever arrive. The unfortunate news is that the second wave of COVID-19 is predicted. France is already preparing for the future, and HKU medical expert Gabriel Leung is “almost certain” of it. Before we jump into conclusions of when complete normalcy will return, we should recognise what WFH has done for our work culture.

89% of Hong Kong employees surveyed by FastLane have benefited from WFH. Saving commute money, energy from exuding a certain professional image, time in travelling... there is a lot to benefit from. To combat the tiny homes of Hong Kong and still enjoy the perks of WFH, workplace solutions like hot desks and coworking spaces are the way to go.

Coworking spaces, where single spaces can be booked and worked from, is the solution to the problems imposed in Hong Kong and Singapore. People can find various workspaces close to their homes, and when employees need to meet, meeting rooms and short-term offices can be booked then. Freelancers and the self-employed have already been on this trend years ago because they don't have to commit to a dedicated office. Now that most workers are working individually, though together, coworking spaces are here to rescue.

A great alternative to being at your home workstation. (Source: Garage Society)

Secure internet connections from these coworking spaces (and of course, strengthened internal policies) can provide a high level of data security without having to go to the HQ. They help companies provide not just an alternative to WFH when it's not possible, but even empower employees to 'Work from Anywhere.'

Until we figure out how to eradicate COVID-19, WFH (maybe without the additional F) measures are likely to be extended. There is no rush to be in the office, because we have already shown that working from home is possible for millions of us right now. Still, we'd appreciate the choice to not just work from one place either.

And, that's why we think WFH could be here to stay, but WFA could be an even better option.

Get into Coworking with BOOQED

Not to toot our own horn, but BOOQED offers the exact type of coworking spaces needed for home workers. We provide hot desks, meeting rooms, café tables for coffee meetings and casual work, and more. We have spaces in Hong Kong and Singapore, so you can maybe take a breather from a compact home office, as well as in Shenzhen and Shanghai. 

Download our app now to get started – available in Android and iOS.