For most it’s an indisputable fact that COVID-19 has changed not only how they work, but their work itself. For Carol Wong, Director and Head of Workplace Delivery Asia Pacific Cushman & Wakefield her days have never been busier. She is both managing a workplace team remotely, and helping clients navigate unchartered territory whilst understanding and preparing for what’s next.
Here Carol discusses how a workplace expert works remotely during a global pandemic, how COVID-19 will change the way we work and what Cushman & Wakefield’s workplace clients want to know.
Firstly Carol, how are you coping in lockdown? What does remote working look like for you?
Working from home isn’t a foreign concept for me. Prior to joining Cushman & Wakefield I spent more than a decade at Procter & Gamble leading their both Greater China & APAC real estate portfolio, and I worked remotely for most of that time.
Now, with 2 relatively young children, things change a little bit. Balancing homebased learning and working from home has been a challenge, especially with the volume of conference calls throughout the day. Luckily, I have a supportive family system to enable me to focus work as much as possible.
Trying to maintain a decent work-life balance can be tough. Finding the discipline to stop, unplug and leave your workspace to spend time alone or with family can bring with it a certain amount of guilt. This can be hard to shake.
We are all in the same situation, so I think now more than ever is a time to show empathy, not just to your team, but to your colleagues and wider network. We are all in this together.
Tell me about leading a team remotely? Are there any tips you can share?
To take care of others, first you need to take care of yourself. It’s so important to have a break during the day if that’s what you need. Second, leaders should try to understand their employees both emotional and physical needs, showing empathy and be flexible in their work arrangement as well. More than ever, transparent communication is required. Making employees feel empowered with flexibility and autonomy, and ensuring people understand what is expected of them will significantly increase employee happiness, which of course leads to increased productivity.
I am focusing on output, not hours. As long as the things that need to happen get done, I am not concerned how my team are allocating their working hours. I also try to be mindful of boundaries, as well as consider things like time zones and traditional working hours when setting team calls and meetings.
My other advice is to check in with your people regularly. Even if it is quick, just to make sure they are ok and not feeling isolated. We have so many convenient channels of communication available, we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of a quick message to someone asking how they are.
Here in Singapore, as well as in Hong Kong and China, the work culture has previously been more of a ‘control and command’ style. Due to this, some people may struggle to effectively manage a remote team. Therefore, training or support programme to equip people managers with the appropriate skills to face the situation is important. Supporting our clients and moving forward with them on this is a key component of change management programmes.
What trends do you expect will come out of COVID-19? Will remote working be the new norm?
I think the workplace consequences of COVID-19 and their knock-on effects will be phased.
Many of our clients are still in high alert mode and navigating external factors (for example the further government lockdowns in Singapore) and doing their best to cope with the rapidly changing environment we find ourselves in. We have started to see that clients are beginning to plan return to work programmes, while continuing to closely monitor each market.
In the short term while workplace design, policies and safety protocols are all critical pieces of the puzzle, the most important aspect of return to work will be the readiness of the workforce physically, emotionally and psychologically.
To help employees through what will be a stressful and unpredictable return to work, organizations should also focus on the personal experiences of their employees from a work and life perspective during this enforced home working period.
It’s important to understand how the pandemic has impacted their personal connection to the culture of the organization & to understand if they feel their organizations are caring for them now , as well as how to improve that care during the return to the physical workplace.
Cushman & Wakefield’s return to work playbook "Recovery Readiness: A How-to Guide for Reopening your Workplace," is a comprehensive guide for real estate tenants and landlords on reopening workplaces as stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. Using learnings from across the globe, it addresses these concerns and guides clients through the return to workplace process.
We have created a prototype of what the office might look like in the short term with our concept the “6 Feet Office.” We are using our Amsterdam headquarters as a living lab to test various ideas and we are in the process of testing & evolving this concept in our NY and APAC – Syd, Melbourne, Singapore requirements.
We are collaborating with industry experts & our partners Spacewell to test sensors to monitor movement patterns and with Delos the founders of the WELL Building Standard & the WELL Living lab to test the quality of air, filtration & surface hygiene technologies.
More significantly we are using this concept to work with both our occupier & investor/ landlord clients to assess their current workplaces, apply the rules of conduct of the 6’ office and co create with them the relevant adjustments to provide a safe environment for people to come back to work.
Prototyping is very important as it helps us use design to nudge behaviours from simple devices such as patterns on the carpet that indicate what 6’ distance actually is & to a greater focus on neighborhood centric design & protocols to support bonding & trust across smaller work groups
We will explore materials already used in healthcare which could make their way into regular office design, including ways to reduce the dependence on shared devices and shift control of the workplace environment to each person’s smart device - Leveraging workplace experience apps like our Workplace Edge for food & beverage orders & access to pre packaged food as well as other services to support frictionless experiences.
The 6’ office is a prototype – it is not a finished product. This is particularly important as we plan to test & develop it further with our clients to deal with different jurisdictions, building typologies & evolving medical data on the virus.