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Traditional offices vs. dispersed workplaces

November 18, 2021

With flexibility, convenience, safety, and well-being of employees becoming the top agenda, is the future a hybrid model, asks Rahul Arora

The pandemic has changed the way people work and offices function. During country-wide lockdowns, when employees worked from home, businesses realised that remote working didn’t impact productivity. It didn’t create hurdles in business continuity either. Instead, circumstances changed the concept of a workplace. As we gradually move towards overcoming the pandemic, the office of the future will most likely be dynamic.

Traditionally, a workplace functions on a one-size-fits-all model with structured operations and centralised governance. But the pandemic-led restrictions and uncertainties forced organisations to reconsider this conventional way of working. There emerged an urgent need for hybrid workplaces for distributed workforces. Flexibility, convenience, safety, and well-being of employees became the top agenda for companies.

One distributed workplace model, Hub & Spoke, was prevalent even before COVID, and was taken to the next level during the pandemic. In this model, while one or many headquarters function as flagship centres for the brand with all major activities and events, various satellite offices become its spokes, strategically located in different parts of the city close to where employees live. This model has gained popularity in recent years due to coworking and managed office service providers, who offer space in multiple locations under one master agreement with flexible terms.

Why distributed workplaces?

In July 2020, nearly 71% of employees worked from home during the pandemic. Of these, 58% missed being in the office and 44% missed socialising with colleagues. Distributed workplaces came as a dynamic solution to this feedback. Today, flexibility is the top-most priority for key talent when considering a job opportunity and the Hub & Spoke model has given an option to companies to spread out and attract a wider pool of talent. Along with flexibility, this model promises enhanced productivity by reducing employees commute time and improving their work-life balance.

However, with changing times, the nature of this model is also evolving. Earlier, companies set up offices near vendors and clients, hiring local talent to enhance service efficiencies. The growth of flex and managed office space made it easier for businesses to have a distributed workforce. Companies are experimenting with this model globally. Fixed lease offices are slowly becoming redundant because businesses can scale and expand into other areas by distributing their workforce as per business needs if they are not tied to a rigid lease. While flex spaces reduce the commitments of a fixed lease, they enable employees to work in a modern, professional, and well-equipped environment.

A strong brand image

Distributed workplace models may not seem viable for firms with a considerably large footprint due to security reasons or business functionalities in multiple verticals. Consolidation has proven to be the most effective solution for such companies to meet efficiency and cost optimisation goals, while creating a strong brand image. Conversely, the pandemic has compelled many companies to rethink their space and logistical needs, leading to conversations around distributed workplaces. With the availability of evolving hybrid models, employers can use these alternate models to test the water before diving in. Companies can try out different locations and gauge employees’ acceptance to ascertain their exact needs.

The business community envisages that permanent virtual work would lead to a decline in innovation and creativity. Without a physical office offering, employees will miss the planned and spontaneous in-person interactions that spark creativity. This makes it inevitable that whether it is Hub & Spoke or an improvised business model, the workplace of the future is the one that fosters collaboration and innovation while prioritising health and flexibility.

Going forward, companies seeking operational and financial efficiencies will likely opt for consolidation and corporates looking for cost-savings, flexibility and talent retention will go with the Hub & Spoke model. Companies that are open to flexible working will benefit not only by attracting top-shelf candidates but also from increased productivity, profitability, and loyalty from their current workforce.

The writer is Managing Director, Bengaluru & head-office leasing advisory, India, JLL.


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