Banking professionals in Singapore are generally welcoming of their employers’ decision to slash office space and potentially cement hybrid work practices, in which staff split time between home and the office. Even those who would prefer returning to pre-pandemic norms are resigned to the fact that the new arrangements are here to stay.
Several financial institutions in the Republic – including JP Morgan, SMBC and Societe Generale – are cutting office space, hinting that hybrid work will continue well after the pandemic is under control.
“As long as the firm has proper processes in place to ensure that everyone has a seat when they turn up, for example through a booking system, I’m ok with having less office space,” says an executive for a local bank, adding that the option to go to the office helps “break the monotony of working alone at home”.
A senior tech professional at a global bank, whose firm is moving towards a hybrid work model, said an arrangement where staff work from home, but can go into the office for face-to-face meetings, would be welcomed by parents.
“Sometimes I’m more productive at home and sometimes I am more productive at the office depending on the type of work and situation. Hence, hybrid working arrangements make a lot of sense,” said the AI expert, who has a 7-year-old. “If organisations embrace hybrid working then the requirement for office space will naturally reduce. But sometimes the 'redundant' space is being utilised for other purposes, like collaboration areas, touchdown desks and private booths,” he adds.
A Q1 2021 office market report by property consultant Cushman & Wakefield predicted that parts of Singapore’s central business district, such as Marina Bay and Raffles Place, could see higher office vacancy rates over the next two years as more banks – who are key occupiers of these areas – reduce their physical footprint. At least 500,000 square feet of Grade A office space in the central business district is expected to be released, the report said.
But not all staff are happy with the new arrangements. A relationship manager at a global bank says working from home has resulted in increased distractions and reduced motivation. “The culture is very different now – it used to be work hard together, play hard together. It’s the social interaction that made work fun. Working from home is less encouraging because it feels very siloed,” she says.
Her bank allows employees total flexibility to choose where they want to work. However, they are no longer assigned desks in the office. “Now that we are hot desking, we have to bring our laptops and forms wherever we go, and it’s troublesome to bring things back and forth,” says the RM, who visits the office about once a week for client meetings or to submit forms.
“Overall, it’s a lot tougher as there isn’t a ‘serious work vibe’. But there’s no choice – we’ve got to adapt. Working from home is permanent,” she adds.
Photo by Shi Zhang on Unsplash