Ireland looks to pubs, derelict buildings to boost remote working outside cities – ET RealEstate

DUBLIN: Ireland will turn vacant buildings in rural towns into remote working hubs and examine whether pubs could be used as workspaces during quiet afternoons in a bid to encourage more people to live outside big cities.

Describing the pandemic-driven move towards remote working as a potential “game-changer” for struggling towns and villages, the government plans to establish a network of 400 remote working hubs as part of a five-year rural development policy.

Local authorities will be given funding to add vacant properties to the network and ministers committed to exploring whether tax incentives and grants could be offered to employers and employees to encourage more rural remote working.

“As we recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unparalleled opportunity now exists to realise the objectives of achieving balanced regional and rural development,” Rural and Community Development Minister Heather Humphreys said on Monday.

“The move to remote, or connected working, has the potential to transform rural Ireland. It will help to sustain and increase the population of rural areas and revitalise town centres.”

The government announced last year that public sector employers would be mandated to make sure 20% of their staff work from home when COVID-19 restrictions are fully lifted and said on Monday that there would be further annual increases to 2025.

The plan includes a pilot scheme to support the use of rural pubs as community spaces and hubs for local services. Humphreys was quoted by national broadcaster RTE as saying that could mean pubs being used as working spaces when they are closed during the week or during the day, as many rural premises are.

“Let’s put it this way. If you want to move rural Ireland, we want to help you,” Humphreys told a news conference.



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British banks slash office space, tell staff to ‘work anywhere’ – ET RealEstate

LONDON: Britain‘s Nationwide Building Society and Santander UK have become the latest banks to take an axe to their office space, cementing remote working arrangements put in place during the Covid-19 crisis.

Nationwide has told all its 13,000 office-based staff to work from anywhere in the country.

The lender said on Thursday it will not renew the leases on three of its offices in its hometown of Swindon in the southwest of England but will retain its headquarters there along with other regional hubs. Santander UK said it will close four offices in Bootle, Newcastle, London Portman House and Manchester Deansgate and switch the location of its headquarters from London to Milton Keynes.

The bank also said it would close 111 branches by August, adding that a long term shift towards mobile and online banking accelerated by the pandemic had prompted the decision. Around 5,000 staff based at closing office sites would be offered new working arrangements, combining working from home with access to local collaboration spaces, the bank said.

The moves to slash office space are a further sign of how companies are taking advantage of remote working to cut overhead. Nationwide’s decision to let its staff work anywhere goes further than British banks such as HSBC and Lloyds , which have said they will cut office space but are likely still to require staff to come in on some days.

The bellwether mortgage lender said it will continue to invest in offices by installing more collaboration spaces, with fewer traditional meeting rooms and well-being measures such as quiet areas. Branch-based staff will still work in those locations, Nationwide said, with some of their formerly office-bound peers able to join them.

Britain’s second-biggest provider of home loans, Nationwide competes with high street banking rivals but unlike them is owned by its customers. The lender last year offered redundancy packages to around 200 staff with a view to around 100 accepting them, Reuters reported, as it seeks to reduce costs.



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Microsoft planning to let employees back into office with hybrid workplace – ET RealEstate

By Lauren Hirsch

Microsoft has joined other corporate giants in assessing the best way to bring workers back to the office, a year after the pandemic sent home employees, who had to learn how to be productive on video conference calls while juggling interruptions from families, pets and the doorbell.

The tech giant announced Monday that it would begin allowing more workers back into its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, starting on next Monday, while also acknowledging that work life may never be the same.

In this stage of reopening, which Microsoft described as Step 4 in a six-step “dial,” the Redmond campus will give some 57,000 nonessential employees the choice to work from the office, home or a combination of both. Microsoft will also continue to require employees to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

Microsoft plans to open its office without restrictions only once the virus acts “more like an endemic virus such as the seasonal flu,” Kurt DelBene, an executive vice president, wrote on the company blog. But even then, office life for Microsoft’s 160,000 employees is not likely to look like what it did before the pandemic.

“Once we reach a point where COVID-19 no longer presents a significant burden on our communities, and as our sites move to the open stage of the dial, we view working from home part of the time (less than 50 percent) as standard for most roles,” DelBene wrote.

President Joe Biden has said he is hoping for a return to normalcy by July 4, but there are still uncertainties, like new variants, local surges and whether the workforce is ready.

How to balance these challenges with the desire to return to the office has varied in large part by industry.

Some, like finance, have been more aggressive with returning workers to the office, premised on the belief that in-person working is best suited for the networking and training the profession demands. JPMorgan Chase is planning to bring its interns into its Manhattan office, as it did last summer, and it is continuing to build its new headquarters on Park Avenue.

Others have been more open to more substantial changes. Google has said it is testing a “flexible workweek.” Target is cutting about a third of its space in its Twin Cities headquarters as it plans for remote work to be a permanent part of office life.

The retailer REI sold its new headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, last year, before it even had a chance to move in. “We decided to do that because that kind of gave us a clean slate, so we could just look at all the opportunities ahead of us,” Christine Putur, executive vice president of the company’s technology and operations, said in an interview.

REI is identifying a few satellite locations around the Puget Sound area, which it hopes will serve as hubs for its employees to congregate. Putur said REI saw benefits in working remotely that the company wanted to retain.

“We saw teams coming together in a different way — really focused on the outcomes,” she said. “And they weren’t worried about finding a conference room. They weren’t worried about who could be where at different point in time. They were focused on what problem do we need to solve, who needed to be there. And they would just gather virtually, and made incredible progress.”

The country’s largest private employer, Walmart, is proceeding with plans to expand its new headquarters in northwest Arkansas, though it expects to make virtual work permanent for its global technology team. It told U.S. employees in a memo this month that the company was continuing to work toward “a plan to bring more campus associates into offices in the future,” according to a copy of the memo, which was obtained by The New York Times.

“For most Walmart associates, the physical workplace will continue to drive culture, speed and innovation, and our associates have told us they’re looking forward to in-person collaboration through surveys and other feedback,” said Jami Lamontagne, a Walmart spokeswoman. She added that associates’ feedback would “help design our workspace of the future and how we use it in the future.”

Microsoft sought to put numbers behind its decision, with the results of a survey of more than 30,000 full-time and self-employed workers. Nearly three-quarters said they wanted flexible remote work options to continue, and 46% said they were planning to move this year now that they could work remotely. Self-assessed productivity remained high, but 54% of respondents feel overworked.

“There are some companies that think, ‘We’re just going to go back to how it was,’ ” said Jared Spataro, the corporate vice president for Microsoft 365. “However, the data does seem to indicate that they don’t understand what has happened over the last 12 months.”



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Builders consider layout changes of under-construction flats to meet new demands – ET RealEstate

NEW DELHI: Real estate developers are making or considering changes to layouts of under-construction flats in multiple projects, to meet new customer requirements amid the trend towards work from home.

Developers are even doing office-like fit outs to accommodate client requests.

For example, Krisumi Corp has come up with a two-bedroom plus work combination of flats at the first phase of its 65-acre township in Gurgaon.

“We have realised the need of the present times. We have converted the three-BHK configuration to a two-plus work, where we will do the fit out and provide the facility required to run a mini office,” Krisumi chief executive Akash Khurana said.

Experts said such configurations are also attracting corporates and they have been booking such flats in bulk.

“The developers are changing with the time and are offering as per the needs of the customer. In future, the government might consider giving some incentives to the developer if he is giving extra space to work from home and also (helping in) saving fuel,” said Vineet Nanda, an independent real estate consultant.

Gera Developments, which is developing premium residential and commercial projects in Pune, Goa and Bengaluru, said the company considered something similar at its under-construction projects.

“There is definitely a demand for space within the house which can be used as an office. We are thinking of squeezing some space from rooms and the common hall to give our homebuyers a small room to work,” said Rohit Gera, managing director of Gera Developments.

Some luxury developers are planning to have bigger business centres in the upcoming projects realising the need for separate work spaces.

“In our upcoming project in Gurgaon, we will have a bigger business centre, which can function as a mini office for residents,” said Silverglades group CEO Anubhav Jain.

Developers are using clubhouses, usually reserved for leisure activities such as pool, indoor games or spas, to create a small working centre with workstations.



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