Co-working spaces: the post-pandemic future of the office?

Stephanie Ping, co-founder & CEO of WORQ

The pandemic has accelerated existing trends such as in remote work, e-commerce, and automation. COVID-19 has continued to disrupt labour markets globally since 2020. The short-term consequences were sudden and often severe: millions of people were furloughed or lost jobs, and others rapidly adjusted to working from home as offices closed.

Governments across the world reacted with restrictions of economic activities, which has resulted in disruptions in the day-to-day business process all the way to a complete lockdown of certain industries and activities. This has resulted in whole industries not being able to sell their products and services to customers, disruptions in the production process and supply chain, as well as significant uncertainty in the market.

With regards to the above, many industries have to bear a huge loss in revenue and they are starting to shift their focus on how to reduce the cost rather than growth and scale. This is likely to be the norm for a while at least, as industries continue to look for ways to survive during the pandemic.

Malaysia’s business landscape has fared no better.

Standalone offices may become unnecessary overhead

As revenue falls down the graph, business owners will have to look for cost-effective alternatives. Prior to the pandemic, the average price for office space in the centre in Malaysia costs about RM 12.50 psf or around RM 12,500 per month for a 1,000 square foot office. This is quite a small office, which can accommodate anywhere from 10 – 15 staff.

Another global survey found that businesses planned to reduce their office space by 30 percent due to fewer workers coming to offices each day. They expect at least 36 percent will retain to work remotely after the pandemic. From what we have been seeing in the market, this seems likely to be the same in Malaysia. While many businesses prefer their employees to come back to office, they remain open to change if there continues to be evidence that they can maintain productivity.

Work from home might not be a permanent solution

Remote work and virtual meetings are now commonplace and everyone knows at least two different remote conferencing tools, when it was likely most of us wouldn’t be able to name one before 2020. This is likely to continue to be this as more companies are adopting a long-term work from home policy like Facebook and Twitter.

However, there are concerns that this may not be a long-term solution for many businesses and employees. A study found that though some work can be done remotely, there are numerous benefits to doing it in person. Working from home does complicate things such as coaching and training, counseling, providing advice and feedback.

While business staples such as building customer and interpersonal relationships, negotiating, and making critical decisions can be challenging in a virtual environment. If onboarding were to be done remotely, for instance, it would require a significant rethinking of the activity to produce outcomes similar to those achieved in person.

This also does not take into account the challenges that certain markets, including Malaysia faces when it comes to infrastructure issues such as high speed internet connectivity, or even a stable connection. Though the internet penetration is high in Malaysia, almost 90%, there are still gaps that leave some areas and demographics vulnerable to complete work from home paradigm shifts. The numbers in Malaysia are skewed towards mobile broadband, rather than fixed line – the latter which is a more stable option for laptop and work usage.

Even for those with broadband, some employees are still struggling to find the best home-work balance and equip themselves for working and collaborating remotely. Therefore solutions need to be sourced that help businesses stay afloat, while at the same time improve upon employee experience during this time.

Is hybrid the solution for businesses in Malaysia?

Creating a solution that fits this issue can be challenging. One proposed solution that offers benefits to both sides of the equation is a hybrid work solution.

This takes the benefits of the office, but eliminates the burden of overheads as we see staggered returns to office and a lot of underutilised real estate. Hybrid solutions, like the Flexi-team Solution product that WORQ is offering, provide businesses and employees with office space and benefits that go along with it, but does not tie them into inflexible rental contracts. These solutions allow businesses to scale their workforce that has to come to office easily or scale down.

How it works is that businesses can rent out office space within co-working spaces that give them access to the full facilities without tying them into a set number of private offices or hotdesks. This is a break from the traditional co-working model in order to meet the needs of a workforce that will likely adopt a mix of work from home and office depending on what’s needed.

Therefore, an office of 50 people does not need to pay for 50 seats, but rather purchase a smaller number of seats for those that frequently use the office space and have a rotating roster for the rest of their employees who come in primarily for meetings, collaborative sessions or brainstorming sessions.

This reduces the costs per month for businesses, but also provides employees with an option to work in an office environment if they find it conducive. The human connection still matters at the end of the day and the hybrid office seems to be the answer to that.