Choice Working: Looking back on the 'new normal' and ahead to the future of work

Chris is an entrepreneur and IACCM accredited expert in the field of commercial and contract management, having worked in the field for the last 18 years. He is passionate about the positive impact proactive contracting and effective commercial/business management can have on the success of an individual project, through to an overall business. 

In 2019 he embarked on his first solo venture. He recognised the move by the region in embracing the gig economy and set up Gigs Advisory. Then in 2020, together with co-founders Mubarak Muaz and Aydyn Tairov, tech startup aceplace was born. Chris is also the co-author of the recent whitepaper, Future of the Workplace – It’s Your Choice.

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Nine months ago, and only three months into COVID-19, we predicted that the pandemic would bring long-term, permanent change to the way we work - particularly the way we use spaces to collaborate and perhaps most significantly, to employee expectations of how and where they want to work.

It was our view that what seemed an immediate reaction to COVID-19, was actually a natural progression in working styles and that with remote working being forced on the masses, people and businesses would realise the benefits of flexibility and it would be very hard to return to the status quo.

Even before COVID accelerated this trend, the concept of flexible working was gaining traction. However, it also faced a lot of resistance with employer concerns ranging from trust issues associated with the lack of visibility (bums on seats) to logistics issues inherent in enabling an entire workforce to work remotely.

COVID-19 and the need for social distancing and the consequent wide-scale shift to remote working put paid to these concerns, proving that a more flexible approach is not only possible but has many benefits.

Sometimes what is forced upon us is resented and rejected, but studies and anecdotal evidence shows many employees have actually enjoyed the experience of not having to commute to the office every day and have even reported being more productive during this period. A survey by BCG earlier this year, based on 12,000 professionals, found that despite both the speed of the shift to remote working and its scale, some 75% of employees said that during the first few months of the crisis, they were able to maintain or improve their perceived productivity on individual tasks.

As time went on it became increasingly evident that employers needed to acknowledge this. Even when restrictions started easing, it was clear that employees were not going to be rushing back to the office and the limitations office working presents. In line with this, we have seen many companies embrace the new normal, officially announcing remote working will be the operandi modus. 

However, there are also downsides of remote working that cannot be ignored - the impact on company culture, how to manage remote teams, employee mental health, a lack of boundaries between work and ‘life’,  the loss of the social aspect… the list goes on.

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What is the solution and is there one? 

We at aceplace in association with Ranseur Consulting have come up with the concept of “choice working”. Whilst the traditional office and remote working tie us to a single environment, either the office or our home, and flexible working provides us with only a combination of the two - choice working provides so much more and will be an integral part of working in the future. 

Aceplace did a recent survey that showed that people agree (98%) that the physical environment and available amenities have an impact on the successful outcome of any form of meeting. Be that a pitch for a new client, a team meeting, a brainstorming session - your physical environment has an impact.                            

Four out of five respondents also said that it would be important or very important in making decisions about who to work for in the future, with only 5% saying it was not at all important.

So why not have the flexibility to choose your physical environment for the needs of your next physical interaction? People will always need to meet face to face, to interact, to connect, to collaborate, to bond. This might however not need to be in one permanent physical location but a variety allowing you to choose the best location that meets the immediate needs on-demand. 

The ability to have a choice for work, to meet, and to have fun is what aceplace offers and many of the coolest places in Dubai have already signed up and are advertising their available spaces on the platform. 

What we have all learned during the COIVD pandemic is that not only can it be done, but that there are benefits of this way of working.

Having experienced the benefits of flexibility and agility as well as working in more diverse and engaging environments, there is now a sense that working remotely is a ‘right’ particularly in the face of ongoing concerns about the health risks of going back to full capacity in offices.

The inevitable consequence of this is that employees are likely to resist going back to the office, store, and workplace permanently, even when restrictions are fully lifted. Many will want the flexibility to work wherever and whenever they want - the days of companies taking large office spaces over a long-term contract are over and are being supported by Government and Freezone initiatives.

DMCC for example, along with other Freezones, no longer require you to take the same office space as required on the mainland - meaning you can still set up a business with visas but be part of a larger co-working space instead of having permanent office space. The UAE has also just announced the launch of a remote working visa for people who wish to live and work in the UAE even though they are employed by companies outside the country.

What does this mean for the future?

We believe it is extremely positive if people and companies are willing to adapt and make changes. Giving people more choice will enable innovation and creativity in a way we haven’t seen before. It will also give companies improved agility and flexibility, drive engagement and productivity and potentially have significant environmental and economic benefits.

The reality is that we are not going back to the way things were before so the challenge for employers now is to embrace the future - and the future is all about choice.

The question is, where will you have your next meeting?

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