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All the world’s a stage: Office designs for the new-age nomadic worker

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Being able to travel frequently and extensively is one of the greatest dreams of Millennial and Gen-Z professionals, says Roger Clement, MD, Singapore, Space Matrix. Is your office making this dream come true?

It’s 4pm and an employee sits in front of his laptop, engrossed in his work. He emails some deliverables for a big project he is working on, and prepares for a call with a client. It’s just like any other Monday evening, except for 3 crucial things:

  1. He is snacking on dried ostrich biltong as he works.
  2. He is going cage diving with sharks soon after.
  3. He is sitting in a gorgeous coworking space, on the coast of South Africa.

This employee is not on a holiday — this is just a regular day in the life of a new-age nomadic worker. Being able to travel frequently and extensively is one of the greatest dreams of Millennial and Gen-Z professionals.

Digital nomad retreats like Hacker Paradise and Be-Remote make it easy for them to travel, network and grow, while still checking off places from their travel bucket list. Studies have shown that remote workers consider freedom and flexibility to be the biggest perks of their job — and being able to work from anywhere boosts their morale.

Companies like Airbnb incorporate a nomadic vibe into their workspace.

Why should companies leverage this trend?

Remote work is not simply a new-age trend that benefits employees. It has major advantages for the employer too — a fact that many companies still overlook. Employees who are happy with their physical workspace are reported to be 16% more productive, and 30% more likely to choose the company over its competitors.

While some firms tackle this by creating jaw-dropping office design concepts, others respond by giving employees the freedom to choose where they work from. It is also an important show of trust by a firm — one that employees really value.

There are some very practical advantages of remote work too. A Gartner report shows that by 2021, companies that offer remote working options will be able to accommodate 40% more employees without increasing their office space. Indeed, a useful advantage to have at a time when real estate prices are on the rise.

Allowing remote work would also mean that companies need not miss out on potential talent, just because they’re not based in the same city. HR departments and hiring managers would be able to choose candidates from anywhere in the world, without worrying about logistical snags or hefty relocation allowances.

Garage Society in Hong Kong functions as a social work hub — complete with comfy lounges, cafés, and work terraces.

How to leverage the trend:

1. Design

Integrating digital nomads into the workforce becomes difficult in offices where the work culture is very traditional. Companies that still follow prescribed 9-5 workdays, have assigned seating for employees, and monitor productivity based on entry and exit times may find remote working too big a leap.

Other firms, however, have already made a move to a more agile work culture through the very way their workspaces are designed.

An open office space helps organisations break out of age-old hierarchical practices by seating senior managers, employees and even interns in the same work area. Some design elements like hot desks, huddle spaces, project rooms and phone booths promote activity-based working styles — they enable people to choose their work environment to suit the task that they are performing at the time.

Employees in these organisations are already used to working from anywhere they want to, collaborate with their teams as needed, and make productive use of their time without any monitoring. For companies like this, adopting a nomadic workstyle is but a short step from the way they already function.

Airbnb’s office in Gurugram has micro-neighbourhoods inspired by its properties around the world.

In fact, companies like Airbnb go one step further, and incorporate a nomadic vibe into their workspace. Their office in Gurugram has micro-neighbourhoods inspired by Airbnb properties around the world. With work areas and conference rooms that transport people to Kashmir, Goa or Texas, employees can feel like digital nomads as they move from zone to zone.

Hilton’s Singapore office tackles wanderlust in its own way — with a very hospitality-focused design. With comfy lounges, biophilic work zones and a state-of-the-art café, operating out of this office feels like a gorgeous staycation.

2. Technology

Offices that are positioning themselves to include digital nomads, have to put razor sharp focus on their technological foundation. After all, when employees collaborate and present their ideas from halfway around the world, one cannot afford to have connectivity issues and dropped networks interrupting the flow of work.

Garage Society in Hong Kong offers maximum privacy to the investment firms and venture capitalists working out of its Beverly House Wan Chai space.

Most companies are adopting cloud-based platforms that enable people to access relevant data from anywhere in the world. Collaborative tools like interactive whiteboards and Microsoft’s Perceptive Pixel ensure that employees can log in for a meeting and be on the same page as their colleagues who are sitting together.

However, some countries like China restrict access to certain sites. Organisations that have employees working remotely from these places may need to equip these nomadic workers with secure VPN services so that they can access the same resources as those working from the company’s headquarters.

3. Policies

With technological advances, it is not unusual for employees to answer emails from their phones after working hours, log in over the weekend, or even remain partially available on their vacation days.

This prompted Netflix employees to ask a valid question — if no one tracks the extra time they spend on the job, why should their time-off be tracked? In response, Netflix approved a policy allowing employees to take unlimited leaves.

Netflix is not the only organisation to introduce policy changes to grant greater flexibility and autonomy to their employees.

Upwork allows people to work remotely whenever they need — they even celebrate ‘Work Online Wednesdays’. US-based company Automattic has headquarters in San Francisco, but they have a fantastic work-from-anywhere policy for digital nomads.

They have a travel budget that allows people to book flights and meet up with colleagues anywhere in the world, thereby ensuring that employees never feel cut off from one another. They even offer a stipend for those who want to set up home offices or invest in equipment for remote work.

Given the pervasiveness of travel and wellness trends around the world, the digital nomad is here to stay.

Most companies today are open to letting people occasionally work from third spaces like cafes, parks or coworking offices. But rather than allowing these unspoken benefits, making them official with updated company policies lets firms protect their interests better. They can ensure data security and guarantee client confidentiality with ease.

For instance, Garage Society in Hong Kong functions as a social work hub — complete with comfy lounges, cafés, and work terraces. However, they offer maximum privacy to the investment firms and venture capitalists working out of its Beverly House Wan Chai space. These professionals operate in dedicated wings and acoustic rooms, where they can deal with sensitive information without fearing data leaks.

Given the pervasiveness of travel and wellness trends around the world, the digital nomad is here to stay. Companies that embrace this change have a crucial advantage over those who opt out of the journey. The world awaits — will you get on board?

Photo / StockUnlimited

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