An increase in remote working employees and under-utilization of existing office spaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic will trigger a need for smart, wellness-equipped office spaces in the future
As companies in Asia Pacific start to restore stability for their businesses and employees, many organizations are proactively enhancing their healthcare and wellbeing programs, according to a new survey examining the business impact of COVID-19 on benefits by Willis Towers Watson. The survey, conducted in June, found that almost half of the companies anticipate a moderate to large negative impact on their business in the next year, and have already taken or plan to make changes to their benefits programs.
To cope with the likely prolonged economic challenges ahead, half of the organizations have taken actions to reduce cost through actions, such as hiring freeze, while others are considering to take further steps, such as furloughs (16%), workforce reduction (21%), reducing or delaying merit increases (23%), salary freeze (13%), salary reduction (10%) and reducing annual bonus accruals (26%) for the remainder of 2020.
During this difficult time, supporting physical and emotional health has come up as a top priority for most employers. Half of the respondents have already or plan to make changes to their benefits programs. Companies that have had a negative impact from the pandemic are more likely than those who have been less affected to change course.
“We find it heartening that employers are actively looking at ways and doing what they can to support their workers despite facing significant challenges. By taking positive actions around health and wellbeing, companies are putting people first, and that’s an investment that’s likely to build employee loyalty, raise engagement and enhance productivity,” said Cedric Luah, MD and Head of Health & Benefits, Asia and Australasia at Willis Towers Watson.
The survey found that one-third of the employers in Asia Pacific believe COVID-19 will have a moderate to large negative impact on employee wellbeing. Employers are looking at enhancing wellbeing programs (40%) and health care benefits (23%). In particular, almost two in five employers plan to enhance mental health services and stress or resilience management for their employees over the next six months.
In Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, more organizations have prioritized wellbeing programs as one of the most important benefits over this year.
With the increased focus on wellbeing, more than 80% of organizations have promoted Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and online emotional/mental health services for their employees during the pandemic. Almost three-quarters (72%) have also prioritized communicating about wellbeing apps to support their workforce in maintaining their physical and emotional wellbeing especially when they work-from-home. Employers have also been promoting telemedicine services (73%) to their employees.
In addition, companies are making it easier for employees to get help across all aspects of the wellbeing spectrum. Many are supporting their employees to alleviate anxiety through virtual interactions, such as:
- Offering new virtual solutions that make it easy to implement and support employees to work-from-home (57%)
- Increasing access to video-conferencing to allow for virtual meetings to keep employees connected around the world (79%)
- Offering flexible work hours to allow employees to tend to child or elder-care responsibilities (52%)
An increase in remote working employees and under-utilization of existing office spaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic will trigger a need for smart, wellness-equipped office spaces in the future, according to Gartner.
Deploy Advanced Technologies to Create 24/7 Wellness Monitored, Safe Office Spaces
To build a wellness-monitored office, application leaders can start by initiating the use of integrated workplace management systems (IWMS) solutions that see to the health and safety of employees. IWMS and resource scheduling applications (RSAs) that use Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT), including motion sensors and beacons, can remind employees to adhere to social distancing rules based on their whereabouts. Keep ahead with contact tracing and promote the use of virtual personal assistants (VPAs) as wellness coaches.
Organizations should not only augment existing hygiene policies with thermal imaging systems but also invest in systems that monitor air quality in real time and keep employees informed. Additionally, features that provide the ability to continuously disinfect, improving air quality by reducing airborne and surface contaminants like viruses, bacteria, germs, volatile organic compounds, smoke, and other allergens will be important. Ultimately, cleaner air allows for improved recycling of air, which will contribute to energy-saving benefits as well as make the workplace healthier.
Strategies that focus on facilities modernization, more agile work environments and the value of employee experience will shape demands in smart workspace technologies.
Turn “Ghost Offices” into Recouped Real Estate Losses
Converting empty “ghost offices” into 24/7, healthy, co-working spaces will present organizations with added costs. However, it can be an important first step in a mitigation plan — allowing organizations to recoup some of their losses during a partial, phased or full reopening. Employees who do not want to work remotely or who lack a good work environment at home will be the first people to benefit from converted offices. Opening such facilities to remote workers from outside of the organization can present additional revenue opportunities, helping to recoup losses.
The top priority for employers’ 2021 healthcare strategies are shown in the following figure:
Figure: Top priority for employers' 2021 healthcare strategies
Source: Willis Towers Watson
“The pandemic has led to a much higher level of employee anxiety and stress, so most employers are focused on promoting or enhancing their current wellbeing programs from now until 2021. More than half of the companies we surveyed plan to prioritize access to high quality mental health solutions for their employees next year. Our study also tells us that more that 50% of companies in Asia Pacific are likely to include telecommuting as an essential work arrangement option for the remainder of this year. Hence, some employers may want to look at broadening its current programs, such as enhancing virtual care or helping their employees to set up an ergonomic workstation at home,” said Pheona Chua, Regional Senior Consultant, Corporate Health & Wellbeing, Asia & Australasia, Willis Towers Watson.
“With the ongoing pandemic, employers should review their vendor performance and costs, while also monitor the employee utilization of benefits. Companies can expect health care, sick leave and disability costs to continue to rise later this year and into the next year. Two-fifths of the employers are also planning to revise their 2021 healthcare strategy,” added Cedric.