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5 surprising predictions for the future office and UAE’s work from home trends

Workspaces will no longer be designed to accommodate floods of employees coming in every morning for another nine-to-five shift. Here are the trends resulting from such a reality, globally and in the UAE

Surveys are finding 70% of employers expect to downsize their office space Voice-enabled technology will be used to request services ranging from ordering a coffee to booking a room Employees have become more cost (77%), environmentally (79%), and health-conscious (82%)

Consumer-product companies are expanding factories and revamping production lines. 

FMCGs are seeking to accommodate consumers who are making more coffee, buying more casual clothes, and eating popcorn while watching movies in between work from home (WFH) sessions.

And WFH is here to stay.

Analysis firm CCS Insights predicts that in 2022 more than half of all office-based employees will still work mainly remotely.  

Workspaces will no longer be designed to accommodate floods of employees coming in every morning for another nine-to-five shift. 

Surveys are finding 70% of employers expect to downsize their office space. Although such a move poses a potential nightmare for a commercial real estate industry already rocked by the pandemic, it could be a boon to workers for whom the expense of big-city living is now prohibitive.

Read: Residency offered to remote workers choosing Dubai as a base of operation

5 things to expect for the future office

ZDNet has rounded up expert opinions on the future of the office. We bring you their top 5 predictions on the topic. 

1. The traditional office isn’t going to disappear anytime soon 

Research shows that about half of employees will actively want to come back to the office. “We will witness a 300% permanent increase in remote workers,” says Andrew Hewitt, an analyst at research firm Forrester. “In other words, one in five workers working remotely permanently.” 

The majority of employees will still be coming into the office, even if not every day. Companies will re-think their real estate investments to cut under-utilized space and work on better designs to make sure that the remaining square meters are used efficiently.  

2. The immediate priority will be health and safety 

According to Forrester, the first priority when re-opening office buildings will be to create a sense of physical and psychological safety in the workplace, despite the encouraging news of a vaccine. 

Companies will, therefore, be modifying office layouts to maintain social distancing and taking extra measures for cleanliness and sanitation. There will also be more investment in new technologies like temperature scanning, predicts Forrester. 

3. Investment in voice assistant technology will rise to enable contactless operations 

In the last few years, voice assistant technologies have been snubbed by businesses, which couldn’t find a suitable use case for them.  

Angela Ashenden, principal analyst in workplace transformation at CCS Insights, told ZDNet: “The need for safer, contact-free interaction with applications is driving renewed interest here.”  

Voice-enabled technology will be used to request services ranging from ordering a coffee to booking a room. Employees can also expect to find voice assistants in shared spaces such as meeting rooms, office lobby areas, and elevators.  

4. The market for connected whiteboard devices will surge 

With half of the workforce at home and the remaining half in the office, visual collaboration tools that can unite distributed teams will be popping up all over the workplace. Among the pieces of hardware that will rise in popularity, CCS Insights identified connected whiteboards such as Google’s Jamboard, Microsoft’s Surface Hub, and Samsung’s Flip.  

5. Robotic co-workers will become commonplace 

Automation has been on the rise for many years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the potential for machines to carry out human jobs – not only in factories but increasingly in workplaces, too.  More likely is that these robots will be deployed to undertake tasks such as health monitoring and cleaning, housekeeping, food services, and payments. 

As robots make an entrance into the office, Gartner even anticipates that HR departments will soon expand to include resources specifically dedicated to the automated workforce. By 2025, Gartner predicts at least two of the top ten global retailers will have re-shuffled their HR departments to accommodate the needs of their new robotic workers. 

Read: Getting too comfortable with remote work could edge workers and economy towards a precipice

The UAE’s employee comfort zones

A survey conducted by cooling experts Taqeef and AC manufacturer Midea reveals that 60% of UAE respondents have expanded their comfort zones, and now regularly do things they were not comfortable with before. 

The survey shows that 67% believe the pandemic pushed them out of their comfort zone. As a result, the majority of respondents have become more cost (77%), environmentally (79%), and health-conscious (82%). 

When asked about what constitutes ‘ultimate comfort’, the majority of the respondents selected using the Internet as a source of information (62%) as the primary choice, followed by spending time with friends and family (60%), relaxing and taking it easy on the weekends (60%), same-day delivery of items ordered online (41%), low-noise or quieter home appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and ACs (41%), and smart technology in-home devices (40%). 

Over half (58%) of respondents highlighted that smart technology in home appliances such as smart sensors, virtual assistants, TVs, and ACs, which were considered as luxuries a few years ago, have become a necessity now.  

Distractions at home or in the office come with a price. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine found that the typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks every 3 minutes and 5 seconds on average. 

It takes an average of about 23 minutes after each interruption to engage fully with the task again, often leading to higher stress, bad moods, and lower productivity, the researchers said.

The UAE’s remote work environment 

Travel portal Lonely Planet has named the UAE among the world’s top 10 countries for remote working, thanks to city-wide WiFi, sunny weather, and a multi-cultural work atmosphere.

Importantly, Dubai recently launched a program that enabled overseas remote working professionals to live in the emirate while continuing to serve their employers in their home country.

Governments are now also embracing the pandemic to reform digital transformation strategies

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum recently announced sweeping reforms that would cancel 50% of government service centers and convert them into digital platforms within two years, as well as merging about 50% of federal agencies with each other or within ministries.