Office environment remains fundamental of working life, says Savills

Office environment remains fundamental of working life, says Savills

The Malaysian Reserve, 22nd December 2021

The physical office setting brings a sense of belonging to both biz and the individuals working for the biz 

THE office environment will remain a fundamental aspect of working life over the medium despite the growing trend and number of people working from home due to the recent Covid-19 pandemic movement restrictions, according to Savills (M) Sdn Bhd. 

Savills’ deputy MD Nabeel Hussain said the physical office setting brings a sense of belonging to both a business and the individuals working for the business. 

He added that for many companies, it also becomes part of their branding and corporate identity in addition to encouraging social interaction and collaboration which are critical to success in most industries and job functions. 

“Congregating can also serve to remind us of the strength in numbers, after a nearly two-year period where many employees across Malaysia and the globe have per- haps felt a bit isolated, lonely and stressed,” he said in an interview with The Malaysian Reserve recently. 

Nabeel sincerely believes most employees have been looking forward to the opportunity to return to their office for some time now. 

He said the sudden announcement of the first Movement Control Order in March 2020, combined with less-than-optimum work-from-home (WFH) infrastructure, created an environment that was chaotic at best, especially for those with families or young children at home. 

Nabeel pointed out that a recent survey published by Savills revealed about 81% of Malaysian office workers would prefer to return to office as the country steps out of the pandemic phase on its way to recovery and offices begin to open. 

He said looking at it from another angle, one could say that about 20% of the survey respondents were of the opinion that the office had become obsolete and no longer served a critical purpose. 

As such, he said it is logical that employees would then be conscious of the need to and benefits from re-integrating back into the office environment. 

“I think acceptance of the paradigm change is critical. Covid-19 has fundamentally changed working culture, and those companies that can operate within these new sets of rules are the ones who will become most successful. 

“For more innovative employers, this crisis represents the opportunity to put some distance between themselves and their competition, at least when it comes to their most important resource — human capital,” he said. 

Comparing working from home against working in the office, Nabeel opined he doesn’t necessarily believe one is better than the other. 

Instead, he would suggest that such an assessment really depends on the nature of the work that one is looking to complete. 

“For the vast majority of people, I think hybrid working, which is a combination of the two options, appears to be the optimum solution in so many ways. Hybrid working is not a recent revelation, many companies have moved to this type of arrangement over the past decade. 

“What the pandemic did, however, is speed up this trend with those companies or employees that were still following a more traditional style of working (almost exclusively in the office),” he said. 

Under the hybrid working model, Nabeel said employers need to take into account their business needs while being conscious of the fact there is no single “right” way of implementing hybrid working. 

He stressed the importance of planning accordingly during this reopening period, as the last thing one needs is a new workplace cluster. 

He said employees may also be a bit more sensitive during this period as concerns about their safety are likely to be at the forefront. 

Nabeel explained that this period represents a superb opportunity for employers to reconnect with employees and show them they are valued.

Therefore, he said it is advisable to take very deliberate steps at this time, even though business concerns may seemingly point towards a rushed opening. 

“I personally find the hybrid working model offers the best mix of flexibility and balance between work demands and one’s personal obligations or pursuits. 

“I have learned that the added degree of freedom seen in the hybrid model is not suited for all individuals, roles or job responsibilities. 

“Increasingly, we believe companies will find themselves competing for a limited available pool of talent in the employment market and those companies that lead from the forefront by offering employees their desired working environment and working model will naturally have an advantage over their competition,” he added. 

Asked if the WFH trend could further contribute to the office space glut in Malaysia, Nabeel said it is too early to draw that conclusion. 

He said while WFH does have implications for office space demand, he has not yet seen widespread examples of companies vacating space purely based on expectations of WFH. 

He added that most companies are still preserving cash, as Covid- 19 has not been beaten yet, by any stretch of the imagination. 

The Greater KL office market, which is really the only significant office market in Malaysia currently, was already facing strong headwinds long before Covid-19 was known to the general public, Nabeel explained. 

“Years of oversupply plus pro- longed weakness in office space demand from the oil and gas industry, traditionally the largest occupier of Grade A space in KL city centre, had combined and resulted in vacancy rates increasing from about 10% in 2009 to as much as 30% in some areas today. 

“When one considers the health of the office market, it is imperative I think to first address the basic supply and demand imbalance and shortcomings in planning, before we start blaming Covid-19 variants, which of course have not helped, but are hardly the root cause of the problems seen in the office market today,” he said. 

When asked whether the emergence of the Omicron variant could delay employees’ desire to return to the office, Nabeel said there is not really enough info on this new variant to assess its ultimate impact just yet. 

He emphasised WFH had become accepted long before the first appearance of Omicron, which will almost certainly not be the last variant of Covid-19 that we see. 

“With these facts in mind, a staged return to the office, at below full capacity, is the prudent approach to take at this time,” he said.