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Work 'anywhere, anytime' culture is taking root in UAE's workplace. Office developments will need to keep this trend in mind in creating all those new spaces. Image Credit: Agency

As the global workforce increases, we will also notice an increase in people working from home, from coffee shops, at airports, or in hotels, on commutes or during school pick-ups. They may work from a friend’s house, at a client’s office or in a co-working flexi-space.

Today’s workforce requires a work environment that adapts with them through the working day, and hence the appeal of choosing to “work anywhere”. What are organisations doing to facilitate mobile working? And at the same time, how can they also create flexible office environments that mimic the work anywhere culture?

Essence of flexibility

Flexible, or agile, working allows employees some freedom of choice over how, when and where their work will be done. It is emerging among large corporates globally... and in the Middle East.

We have seen some corporates choose to give employees one or two remote working days a week, on which they can work from a location of their choice. While others have introduced flexi-time, which enables employees to work their required hours during a wider time window than the nine-to-five, and perhaps starting and finishing earlier.

Some of the companies we work with have a “hot desk” policy to cater for highly mobile teams who spend a lot of time travelling or working offsite. These employees don’t need a designated desk or office, and are happier to be provided with the technology that enables them to work remotely.

All-round gains

Flexible working reduces commute times, which tends to improve quality of life, and giving people more spare time. It also widens the talent pool to include more parents, members of an older generation, and other groups who find the traditional nine-to-five office environment a barrier to working. Flexible working can also bring significant value to corporates. Increasing a company’s attraction as a preferred employer is an obvious one, but happier employees also mean higher staff retention, more productivity and improved worker performance.

Advantage real estate

There are also several considerations to be made with regard to real estate. In a traditional office set-up, desks sit empty an estimated 30 per cent of the time, due to sick days, annual leave and work travel. So in a flexible working environment, average desk utilisation is even less.

An ideal solution for corporates would be to take on a lease in a building that also houses a co-working entity. Why invest in your own, when you can share one?

- Matthew Dadd of Knight Frank

Remote working also puts less pressure on communal facilities, such as car parking and conference rooms. The net result is that companies typically require smaller office spaces when mobile working is encouraged, thus helping them choose offices in prime locations. And by giving employees better accessibility, therefore reducing commute times.

Other considerations

When looking at real estate options, corporates that want to reduce office space to adapt to flexible working policies would be wise to consider co-working options. This is no longer confined to start-ups. Even large corporates are taking out such space, attracted by the flexibility provided by these spaces to either scale up or down at any point in time.

An ideal solution for corporates would be to take on a lease in a building that also houses a co-working entity. Why invest in your own, when you can share one?

So advanced are the leaders in co-working today, from IWG and Servcorp to Total Office Group and WeWork, which is now launching in the Middle East, that we predict corporates will partner with them in the future.

Gig economy

Another concern for future real estate decisions is that of the growth of the freelance or gig economy, as cited in our “YourSpace” report. Freelancing has become a rising - and now significant - component of the labour market.

With freelance visas readily available in Dubai, these trends are an important consideration for UAE-based businesses. Offices of the future will need to be equipped to cater for a more transient workforce, with flexible zones, hot desking and work cafés becoming critical aspects.

The impact of this flexible work anywhere culture on traditional office space is multi-dimensional. Some corporates may choose to downsize their workspace to adapt to the changing patterns; others may tie-up with coworking specialists to offer an alternative workspace.

Ultimately, this evolving trend reminds occupiers making real estate decisions, to prioritise the main reason that people like to work from an office – the element of human interaction.

- Matthew Dadd is a Partner at Knight Frank.