▶ Some residents in Dubai report lower productivity yet put in longer hours during the Covid-19 pandemic Work from home or return to office? Survey finds workplace of future in state of flux
The future of the modern workplace is in a state of flux, according to a survey by Blueground, a New York property technology company that operates in a dozen cities around the world, including Dubai and Istanbul.
While people in health care, e-commerce and media businesses are more likely to report greater output because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact, others may not feel as productive.
A survey of 500 people across the locations where Blueground operates shows residents in Dubai feel they are getting less done while working more hours and feeling a higher level of anxiety while working from home.
“There’s certainly preference for a hybrid model of working from home and going to the office,” Amine Housni, regional manager of Blueground, told The National.
Blueground provides leases and property management through its app for furnished apartments in neighbourhoods in a dozen cities around the world. It has 3,500 units in its portfolio and surveyed its customers about their experience working from home in April and May.
Those sounding the death knell for offices may want to look at its findings: two thirds of its Dubai guests report that they are getting the same or less done as they did when working from an office, and half said they are working “much more”. Half of those surveyed also reported feeling greater anxiety than they had pre-pandemic.
This echos a stark warning in March from Stanford University
economist Nicholas Bloom, who studies remote work. He said that the global work-fromhome movement, intended to maintain output during the pandemic, could actually generate a worldwide productivity slump and threaten economic growth for many years.
As restrictions around the world are lifted and office workers begin returning to their physical work spaces, many are wondering what the “new normal” will look like.
“There’s this weird false binary when we talk about the future of work, that we should either be chained to our desk or do everything by Zoom,” said Tom Goodwin, head of futures and insight at Publicis Groupe. “We need to have a mature conversation about the nature of jobs and what they really require.”
Offices convey confidence in the future of a company and will not be done away with at all, he said.
“While everyone right now is longing for green fields and loving baking bread, we must remember that we are a social species and trust comes from presence.”
Offices offer the basic necessity of allowing everyone to come together. During a recession, large investments in new fit-outs or technology infrastructure are unlikely, he added. However, company leave and remote work policies may provide room for longer escapes to connect with nature or have some down time.
Mr Housni agrees. Blueground apartments come furnished. Its millennial target demographic is, by reputation, fairly nomadic and prefers flexible work, and living spaces are designed to reflect that. But before the pandemic, it was common for customers to request that desks be removed from units as most people preferred to head to an office, cafe or co-working space for the day.
“Now they are asking for the desks back,” he said, but he does not expect this to last.
At the start of 2020, the company was planning a rapid expansion, looking to go from 550 units in Dubai to 1,000 and from 3,500 globally to 55,000.
Today, those plans are on hold. But when business picks back up, Mr Housni said he would be looking at a different type of unit: more square footage and a preference for balconies or outdoor space in a low-rise building. Memories of being shut in a high-rise for a long stretch will linger, he said.
WeWork, which never shut its locations in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, has modified its shared spaces with staggered seating and signage to guide safe social distancing. The increased sanitisation practices and cleaning supplies on offer, as well as the signage are “part of the new normal”, the company said in a manual detailing the changes it is implementing.
“Our aim is to ease the transition for those coming back to the workplace, while still maintaining the feeling of collaboration and connection,” said Riad Thoumas, general manager of WeWork UAE.
So far that is proving difficult. Booths originally designed for close collaboration are limited to one per person.
“This ‘new normal’ won’t be entirely logical,” Mr Goodwin said. He predicts we will return to how things were much more quickly and easily than one may assume.
“This is an opportunity to go to a blank sheet of paper” to completely reevaluate what the future of work should look like, he said. Otherwise, the opportunity for lasting change will pass.
As office workers begin returning to their work spaces, many are wondering what the ‘new normal’ will look like
Offices instil confidence in a company among employees and will continue to be part of the workplace lifestyle