Working Life

Hot-desking a growing trend as MNCs look to optimise space

Working space at the recently completed JLL office in Shanghai. JLL's main aim for activity-based working is to facilitate communication, enhance collaboration and improve productivity among employees. At AXA (below), quiet rooms give staff better co
At AXA, quiet rooms give staff better concentration at work and also allow for private telephone conversations.PHOTOS: JLL, AXA

Staff at multinational companies (MNCs) across the Asia-Pacific region can expect less space per worker in the office as these firms push ahead with desk-sharing plans, a new survey has found.

About half of all the MNCs surveyed ranked workspace planning as their main priority for the coming year. They are also increasingly aware of technological disruption.

Corporations across the Asia- Pacific are "evaluating the longer- term dynamics of the workforce and thinking more holistically about the role of agile working environments in their business", said Mr Phil Rowland, the chief executive officer of Global Workplace solutions at CBRE Asia Pacific, which conducted the survey.

More than a third - 36 per cent - of MNCs cited technological disruption as a major concern for future operations, the survey showed.

Other significant concerns include global economic uncertainty and a focus on cost savings.

The increased focus on space-optimisation has accelerated a workplace shift from fixed desks to "activity-based working" (ABW) - sometimes known as "hot desking".


Working space at the recently completed JLL office in Shanghai. JLL's main aim for activity-based working is to facilitate communication, enhance collaboration and improve productivity among employees. PHOTOS: JLL, AXA

This involves creating a flexible workspace where people can share desks and are free to change seating arrangements on a daily basis.

More than half of the survey respondents plan to implement this new approach and, by 2020, 63 per cent of MNCs have set a target of providing a space of less than 100 sq ft for each employee. This approach to office space is on the rise among MNCs operating here. JLL and AXA insurance (AXA) are among the companies which have already begun to implement such strategies.

AXA started moving to its SmartWorks@AXASG at the end of last year. It is scheduled to be completed by the middle of this year.

JLL began implementing its workplace strategy in 2011 and the last phase was completed in 2014.

"We found that 53 per cent of our space was under-utilised, meeting spaces were often blocked and under-used, legacy systems were requiring update and physical storage needed to be cleared and digitised," said Mr Bruno Pinson, Chief Risk Officer, Co-Executive Sponsor of SmartWorks@AXASG.

Mr Pinson also cited the importance of reducing the firm's carbon footprint by moving to a paperless work environment.

MNCs are now shifting their focus from attendance to performance and outcome. JLL's key purpose for ABW is to facilitate communication, enhance collaboration and improve productivity among employees.

Ms Peidi Chin, the head of Singapore consulting at JLL, said: "Increasingly, the speed of work is becoming faster and issues are becoming more complex. This design allows us to work effectively across all business lines and makes it easy for us to work together as a team."

AXA conducted a survey among employees who had moved to the new ABW environment.

It showed that 80 per cent were satisfied and more than half noticed an increase in individual and team performance.

However, implementing these changes is not without challenges.

A senior manager at another large MNC said: "I prefer the sense of familiarity a fixed desk provides. I also like having the option of personalising my desk space with photos of family and friends. It helps me work better."

"People are afraid of the unknown and changing the mindsets of older employees who are accustomed to fixed desks can be difficult," said Dr Megan Walters, JLL's Asia-Pacific head of research.

Before firms venture into more flexible office arrangements, they need to "look holistically across their businesses and what their work requires", Ms Chin said. "This involves looking at the values of the firm, the brand they are trying to create and understanding the functions of the organisation."

Correction note: This story has been edited to correct the designation of Mr Bruno Pinson, who is Chief Risk Officer, Co-Executive Sponsor of SmartWorks@AXASG. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'Hot-desking a growing trend as MNCs look to optimise space'. Print Edition | Subscribe