ISG's Steve Ramsden speaks to Commercial Interior Design Magazine about why physical workspaces are the heroes of hybrid working

Commercial Interior Design Magazine's opinion piece with Steve Ramsden, Managing Director for Southeast Asia & Middle East on hybrid working and the evolving role of physical workspaces.

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Steve Ramsden is fifth on Design Middle East Fit Out Power List

More employers are realising that there is no going back to the work model that prevailed before the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The call for flexibility is here to stay and many are embracing hybrid working.

Findings from ISG’s research report ‘The Power of Place’ show that the rise in hybrid and remote working may have changed the world of work exponentially, but when it comes to encapsulating brand, creating a sense of belonging among talent, and inspiring people to be creative and productive, the physical workplace still has a big role to play.

A recent study by real estate consultancy Savills revealed that nearly 70% of employees in Dubai had returned to their offices in some capacity after the pandemic. Another study by tech firm Cisco concluded that the majority of employees surveyed in the UAE – around 90% – would prefer a hybrid work model.

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Quality workplaces

The UAE’s trends are in line with ISG’s global data that shows that though remote working has been widely adopted, the role of the physical workplace in the hybrid mix has not diminished – rather, workspaces remain an essential ingredient in overall performance. Survey results demonstrate a strong correlation between employee engagement and quality workplaces – with those reporting a good-quality workplace being almost twice as likely to believe their organisation is a better place to work in.

So, in a competitive landscape for attracting and retaining the best talent, smart employers should offer flexibility and also invest in places that respond to the aspirations of their employees – both current and future. Maintaining this balance is key and here’s why; flexible working options, offered by employers, for both work-life and performance reasons, are increasingly common and a differentiating factor for employers.

Flexibility here means catering to employees who prefer a more structured office-based environment and others who prefer to work remotely and a varying degree of both, based on the individual needs of the workforce.

But how do businesses entice people to join their organisation, or even take a leap into an entirely new industry? Forward-thinking organisations will continue to look to inhabit spaces that appeal to the world’s most gifted people. ISG’s data showed a feeling of disconnection from the physical workplace aligns with a 10% dip in professional pride in just six months, which is an eye-opening statistic if organisations are to avoid a potentially slippery slope toward transactional relationships with their people.

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Office as a culture

Our latest findings at ISG also show that quality workplaces continue to play a pivotal role in instilling a sense of pride and positivity in people who work there. Employers who wish to inspire such feelings must look beyond financial recompense and focus on the unspoken psychological contract with their people. After all, an office is the physical embodiment of a company, its culture, ethos, and values.

At a more practical level, in a physical office, communication is simpler and more efficient. It is far easier for employees to build relationships, brainstorm and collaborate when they are within close proximity of each other. Another advantage to having a physical office is that everyone has equal working conditions and can share experiences that are integral to professional and personal development – this directly supports a positive company culture.

Ultimately, the way we work is experiencing its first major shift in almost 100 years, and so the pace and degree of this change must align with the needs of each organisation and its employees.

Recent history has demonstrated that brands cannot expect to flourish if they ignore disruption and neglect to embrace flexibility in the way they do things. How the new hybrid work culture ultimately shapes up remains uncertain, but what is certain is the office environment is here to stay, though yesterday’s iteration of it will never fully return.

This story was published in the July 2022 edition of CID Magazine.

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