Reverting to traditional offices is not going to happen: Nidhi Marwah, The Executive Centre 4386

Nidhi Marwah

Nidhi Marwah, Group Managing Director, The Executive Centre

Speaking to All Things Talent, Nidhi Marwah, Group Managing Director, The Executive Centre, talks about how the need for co-working spaces has increased rapidly due to the pandemic, the evolution of co-working spaces, and the importance of building trust and empathy at TEC

Q. The need for co-working spaces has increased rapidly due to the pandemic. What have been the top trends of 2021 that you feel have augmented this shift?

A.  As companies adjust to the new normal, there has been a very visible shift in how workspaces are seen, and the processes implemented by organisations. Flexibility has grown to play a prominent part in that discussion. Additionally, risk diversification has been prioritised as corporates aren’t willing to have their CAPEX tied up in a single asset anymore. This has resulted in organisations no longer willing to retain long-term office spaces. Having the entire workforce within a confined space is now seen as a risk. A solitary Covid positive result can lead to an entire team getting infected, further impacting business operations and output. This risk increases pressure on team members and expenses overall. The trend has led to an understanding of the value of having teams set up in different locations. When it comes to CAPEX and manpower the decision to diversify risk is almost forceful in this situation.

The second trend that has increased the demand in co-working spaces is the mobility of the workforce and where they now choose to work from. When the pandemic began, we saw people migrating back to their hometowns to be with their families. As companies shift from a traditional mode of working to a hybrid model, there is a hesitation among employees to leave their comfort zones. Be it a return to working from the office or adoption of a hybrid model, employees now prefer the ability to utilise the closest possible office space in order to optimise their experience.

Placing importance on peace of mind and empathising with employees’ mental health and safety has been a growing trend. It has also become very important to ensure safety and hygiene for peaceful operations in a workspace. The benefit of co-working office spaces is that the burden of ensuring hygiene protocols rests on the office spaces. We at TEC ensure that proper hygiene protocols are being followed and regular sanitation is being done. We ensure that these efforts are showcased to our customers, resulting in a deeper trust with not only the management but their employees as well. Basics such as travel declaration, temperature checks, masks mandates, and social distancing are ensured. Additional layers of protection such as air purifiers and UV lamps are installed within the office space. Organisations, therefore, don’t have to shoulder the responsibility of these critical functions and give them the space to focus on their business operations.

Businesses have had an overnight shift in their business continuity process, and some have had to scale up or down drastically. The costs of scaling can be a major burden and companies may not have the financial capabilities to execute this. Flexible workspaces are an easy answer to the problem as it helps organisations adopt new workspaces at the desired costs.

Q. The future of office spaces has completely altered as many HR leaders believe work models may never revert to pre-pandemic conditions. How, according to you, has the future of office spaces changed?

A. I completely agree. One thing we can say with certainty about office workspaces is that reverting to traditional offices is not going to happen. Today, the word “normal” has undergone a huge transformation. Every company has learnt its share of lessons from the continued pandemic situation and has realised the need to create flexibility in their real-estate, workforce, budgets, operations, and processes. Adaptability is what we need to survive and thrive, and the future of work models will reflect that need. Flexibility has thus become non-negotiable.

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From the perspective of an employee, they have realised that it is possible to be productive in other work models as well. They have also realised that there is a certain fatigue that sets in when working from home all day. In this situation, employees will need to determine their comfort zones and figure the right balance that works for them.

“One thing we can say with certainty about office workspaces is that reverting to traditional offices is not going to happen. Today, the word “normal” has undergone a huge transformation. Every company has learnt its share of lessons from the continued pandemic situation and have realised the need to create flexibility in their real-estate, workforce, budgets, operations, and processes.”

Q. What are the top practices that will be carried forward to 2022?

A. First and foremost, flexibility will be built into everything. Secondly, communication will play a larger and more important role in the daily practices of a company. With the pandemic, every organisation had to learn the value of communication. A lack of communication brings with it the lack of trust and faith in the company by its employees. They do not feel safe and secure in an environment if proper communication channels and protocols are not established. Trusted chains of communication, a strong sense of empathy, and strong trust levels are critical for a company to survive a crisis like that of the pandemic. We at TEC have understood the importance of building trust and empathy and these practices are sure to be carried on to the next year as it helps us provide an enriching employee experience.

The hybrid work model along with flexibility in roles and responsibilities have also been established for the future. The paradigms of hierarchies and responsibilities have become distorted during the pandemic. This will result in functional flexibility within the organisation which will affect the future of workplaces.

“The hybrid work model along with flexibility in roles and responsibilities have also been established for the future. The paradigms of hierarchies and responsibilities have become distorted during the pandemic. This will result in functional flexibility within the organisation which will affect the future of workplaces.”

Q. How has the demand of your premium clients changed in the last two years in comparison to what it was in 2019?

A. The location has proven to be the most fundamental aspect of real estate, more so than for commercial real estate over others. However, the current situation we witness has evolved into one that sees a reduction in the importance of location. Organisations prioritise meeting their exact requirements in terms of seating. Location is no longer a driving factor as prices are driven by amenities, safety, and comfort. Businesses now demand the flexibility that comes with having offices across several locations.

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Q.How have co-working spaces evolved in the recent past?

A. The changes have kept up with the changes in demand. Earlier, co-working spaces were all about collaboration and multiple people working collectively. Now, people look forward to a privatised employee experience. They are emphasising the importance of maintaining their own brand standards, brand identity, and company culture within a flexible workspace environment. We have seen companies requesting amenities such as soundproof rooms to have private discussions as well as large private work desks that aren’t overlapping with other employees. A priority is being placed on identity, culture, and ethos.

“Earlier, co-working spaces were all about collaboration and multiple people working collectively. Now, people look forward to a privatised employee experience. They are emphasising the importance of maintaining their own brand standards, brand identity, and company culture within a flexible workspace environment.”

Q.Work culture is one of the biggest concerns of several key HR leaders in this hybrid world. What do you have to say about that?

A. I would agree that it has become a larger concern as of late. This is a change that must be taken into consideration for the future of our workspaces. At TEC, we have prioritised the development of a work culture that nurtures empathy within all our customers.

What are the people’s priorities for The Executive Centre in 2022?

A.  At TEC, we are an enterprise that evolves continuously and experiments with various models to ensure our employees are given the right environment for growth and success. For 2022, we have three main areas of focus related to HR policies and talent.

Cultivating internal leadership will be a priority for next year. To survive tough times, strong leadership is critical. We will promote, acknowledge, and help employees grow within the organisational structure. Preference will be placed on employees that have shown leadership during the pandemic and crises. We will highlight the contributions of people who have persevered through tough circumstances by showcasing creativity and initiative while delivering goals to the organisation.

Our aim for 2022 is to ensure proper communication channels are established and utilised to secure the trust and empathy of our employees. In a time when travel is restricted, and our teams are spread across the country, strong communication and increased empathy levels are vital to retain employees and their trust and stimulate their motivation. To implement this, we plan to focus on conducting engaging activities and building meaningful relationships with our employees.

The prioritising of our employees’ mental and physical health is a major focus. We need to ensure that we have a reliable and anonymous way of tracking their sentiments. Ensuring that they are in a comfortable, safe space with their physical and mental health in good shape is essential.

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Nidhi Marwah has overseen the growth of TEC in India, Sri Lanka, and most recently the Middle East that encompasses 30 centers, set to expand to a total of 1 million square feet in 2020. She began her career with the Taj Group of hotels before a short stint in Barbados, also in the luxury hospitality industry. She joined Intercontinental Hotels Group and was later part of the pre-opening team for Marriott Hotels in Hyderabad.

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