workplace design in 2023 by Arsh Chaudhry

What’s next in the world of workplace design in 2023 and beyond? Q&A with Arsh Chaudhry


What’s next in the world of workplace design in 2023 and beyond? Q&A with Arsh Chaudhry

What’s your outlook on the bolstered fears of a global recession hitting APAC in 2023? What do you think is in store for the real estate industry and commercial workplaces at large in the coming?

Arsh: 2023 is a year for us all to look beyond what is. The Russian- Ukraine war, rising interest rates and growing inflation which dominated news headlines in the second half of 2022 created the perfect recipe for an economic slowdown in the US and Europe for 2023 setting a cautious theme for the western world for most of 2023. However, Asia may not sail in the same boat as the rest of the world, continuing to remain the world’s fastest-growing region, underpinned by demand in domestic-oriented economies of India - with the GDP projections being revised upwards from 6.3% to 6.9% for 2023 - and the emerging South-east Asia. I also believe China will play a bigger economic role than what most economists have anticipated for 2023. 

Even with regards to the office market, although mature markets in Asia like Singapore, Honkg Kong will see a muted demand for net new office space,  we will see growth in gross office space demand in emerging Asia, specifically, India, China and South East Asia.

Also with the changing definitions of hybrid working’ across various countries with ‘return to office’ slowly but surely gathering momentum. Large office portfolio owners that we have talked to in the last 3 months are reporting a very interesting phenomenon in their occupancy levels across their  portfolios - technology industry tenants are seeing 30-50% of their staff back to office while the non technology firms are at 80% or above. 

Many banking CEO’s are mandating for their employees to be back in the office full time. Earlier this week, Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney asked for all employees to be back in the office atleast 4 days a week citing creativity, learning and mentorship as key reasons. Mark Benioff the CEO of Salesforce echoed the same views also. 

What shall be the definition of hybrid working? 2, 3, 4 or 5 days a week in office? No one can predict where the pendulum for this debate shall settle but what we can say with certainty is that the purpose of the office has been redefined and therefore how it should be designed and how it should function has certainly changed significantly.  

What is (or should be) the impact of workplace design for an organisation in the world of today?

Arsh: It’s 2023 and today it's a well accepted fact that the nature of work as we know it as well as how it is carried out has changed for good. The other well established fact is that as long as there is work, it will need to be done by people who have to come together, at least some time physically to be more effective, which means any doubts around the relevance of the workplace have gone out the window. In fact organisations and leaders are acknowledging the role of the workplace as a positive catalyst for employee engagement and organisational success in these volatile times.

It is time to look beyond the workplace from being a place where people came to work and from where work happens to it being an ecosystem of experiences that fosters flourishing communities that drive business success. With this change in the purpose of the workplace and them being designed to be ecosystems of experiences, the role of the workplace is to become the destination for employees where they can be the most effective. When the design gives equal importance to choice and autonomy, coming together to interact with like minded people, the space becomes a source of sparking conversations that lead to innovation that benefit the corporation, foster a sense of community at the core and create an overall sense of well-being in the workplace.

Is there a number one thing – or challenge – clients are asking for help with or turning to workplace design to solve?

Arsh: The answer to this would of course vary from region to region and even within APAC between the different markets we operate in. However, the one common challenge we see is that while organisations have a clear view of the advantages of having their people back to the office, there is still some push back from employees and these numbers and behaviours do also change based on industry sectors and markets. So the primary challenge for organisations therefore would be on how do they make the ‘hybrid model’ successful for themselves and how to use workplace design to make the space 'commute worthy’ for their employees so they see it as the most effective place to get work done.

How is workplace design impacted by the rapid advancement of technology?

Arsh: In terms of technology and its use in the workplace, the advancement in both its functionality and role has come at a breakneck speed and has disrupted how we work. While the role of technology in the workplace was primarily around virtual meeting setups, its other role was also to do with studying the utilisation of spaces to then look at real estate optimization. The approach and perception towards the use of technology at the workplace has seen a significant change. There is a much more seamless integration with design, and while with organisations adopting the hybrid setup, technology is still being used for creating virtual meeting solutions, the expectation is to facilitate more equitable experiences for people working both on and off site. Technology is also playing a role in providing psychological safety to people with the integration of touchless security solutions etc. The most interesting aspect of the workplace where technology has taken a predominant role is in creating a positive workplace experience for employees - with technology a lot more personalisation is possible, creating a ‘Wow’ experience for employees. For example, with technology and spaces interacting seamlessly, personalised experiences for employees such as a ‘room’ remembering their lighting or temperature preferences, their ability to order a cup of coffee with an app etc has taken employee experience to the next level. It is this integration of design and technology that will be most exciting going forward. 

What do you think 2023 and the future holds for workplace design?

Arsh: While workplace design always had to do with human behaviour, at some level the success of the office spaces however was tied to efficiency and utilisation. The biggest shift has been in the recognition of the role of workplace design in influencing and shaping human behaviour and the impact it has on decision making. Leaders are taking note of the importance of people centric design that delivers empathetic experiences.

Designing these empathetic experiences based on an immersive understanding of the work lives of employees to gain an insight into the kind of activities to accurately design for the work employees do, how they interact with spaces and how those interactions are changing will definitely gain momentum in the coming year. It is based on this understanding of employee behaviour that various micro-environments can be designed within the workplace, transforming it into an ecosystem of experiences where employees come to be their most effective selves. 

In one word, what would you want the year 2023 to be?