As the world anxiously awaits a cure for COVID-19, what was once an unfamiliar order – telecommuting or work-from-home – has now been normalised with safety measures set in place by the government. In Thailand, at least 20 per cent of Thai corporations have made the permanent shift to working from home, according to PwC, as employee safety and cost reductions become key priorities.
Whilst some workers have easily adapted to this lifestyle, some others are still finding it difficult to do so. The rise in mental health issues is increasingly seen as a key concern by experts as stress levels grow with workdays seemingly bleeding longer, and weekdays blurring into weekends, especially with the concept of work from home remaining as the default option for the majority of organisations up till today.
The pandemic has recalibrated everything: Work, Life and Play. Even if the Thai government will focus on fully easing the lockdown, the implementation of physical distancing protocols is still likely to continue, and it is still paramount that the focus in priority shifts towards the control of people flow in public places across Thailand.
How should society cope as we move to focus on livelihoods beyond the pandemic?
Reshaping the Future of Work and People Flow
With many organisations forced to fast track their digital transformation agenda to boost their work from home capabilities, work today has been made more fluid and interconnected. This is seen through the rise in adoption of digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation, Internet of Things, and more. However, as we progressively adapt to new working models and integrated technologies to support remote working, working from home may just be a temporary solution to tide over the pandemic.
The physical work environment will continue to play an irreplaceable role in facilitating face-to-face interactions; core to building lasting relationships and fostering deep collaboration. Whilst more employees may have the option to work from home on a semi-regular basis in the near future, the potential decline in working from the office will pose as a chance to rethink the concept of future offices and people flow, as the number of workers commuting into the city changes as well.
The post-pandemic era calls for open-plan offices to be redesigned, and office cultures redefined, all with the common denominator — flexibility. Businesses need to re-think “compact offices” and decongest office spaces, while taking into consideration new social distancing norms. But beyond social distancing, health, wellness and socialising will become an intrinsic part of the long-term re-architecture of our workplaces. Elements of hospital and healthcare design such as disinfection infrastructure and air-conditioning technologies such as High-efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that kill bacteria and viruses will have to be incorporated to ensure higher and predictable levels of cleanliness.
Additional space in offices means more specialised areas can be built to foster greater collaboration, boosting productivity. New office spaces will involve decisions around where these workspaces should be located. With people-flow decreasing in the central business district area and with an eye on decongesting public transportation during peak hours, we will probably see businesses and commercial activities decentralise and spread out.
Post-pandemic decentralisation in Thailand
As a reaction to the impact of the pandemic, we will continue to see several waves of change, and a new ‘back-to-work’ is just the first. With shifting line of sight in work arrangements and social interactions, Thailand needs to rethink its urban development to include new greater decentralisation efforts and density management.
Decentralising urban communities would entail considering elements, including sustainability and the environment. Indeed, COVID-19, as well as the threat of other viruses, has definitely shed light on the criticality of proper urban planning and design—and this is where decentralisation is seen to reduce the point of failure that makes centralised systems vulnerable.
Real transformation is enabled through conversations, engagement and building trust. More open discussions with Thai people should also be developed, allowing them to play an integral role on how living spaces can be best built to suit their needs, and create an efficient and productive space for them to live, work and play in. This ensures that evolving end user needs are matched alongside future smart city developments. This will be the new normal and we need to be prepared to reimagine, reshape and rebuild the future of Thailand’s smart urban development.