Sharing Our Work-From-Home Experience in Asia Pacific and the Middle East

Editor's note: This post is part of our ongoing exploration of how design is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the COVID-19 pandemic spread through cities in the Asia Pacific and Middle East (APME) region in mid-March, Gensler staff members began working from home (WFH). During the third week of our transition to this new style of working, we launched a 7-minute pulse check survey to assess our people’s well-being, challenges, and overall experiences.

Within a week, 78% of our region’s workforce responded, and several key takeaways emerged that are now helping inform how we plan to return to work in the region and how we can partner with clients to do the same.

Here is a summary of what we discovered:

1. Even under mandated WFH conditions, people reported high levels of satisfaction.

Gensler’s APME working from home survey found that 68% of respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with their WFH experience. During the time of the survey, our people throughout the region followed diverse sets of protocols — our Dubai and India offices were under a complete lockdown, which enforced strict “no leaving the house except for groceries” mandates. In Sydney and Singapore, going outside to exercise was optional and, in Tokyo, the restrictions were more lenient.

  • Among surveyed employees, those from our Sydney office reported the highest overall satisfaction rates, while those in our Tokyo office reported the lowest.
  • Those at home with more dependents — small children or parents — or those living alone reported the lowest satisfaction scores.
What do you like most about WFH?
Most employees love not having to commute to work every day, as it gives them more time for personal tasks and activities. Many also like the ability to adapt their schedules as well as the additional time for friends, family, and loved ones.
2. People reported greater levels of trust, productivity, and empowerment compared to working in the office.

The culture of presenteeism — the inclination to remain at work when other factors, such as sickness, would suggest that you leave — tends to be higher in Asia than in the rest of the world. It was refreshing to learn that 96% of our staff said they felt trusted by their managers when working from home.

Compared to working from the office, 67% of respondents said they feel more empowered when WFH, while 64% feel more productive, and 55% feel more engaged. This trend was generally similar across all household types, except for those living with siblings or other relatives. Those people feel more distracted, but less stressed.

Looking ahead, these findings bring the habit of presenteeism into question when WFH can provide an experience that enables trust, a greater sense of productivity, and empowerment.

What do you dislike most about WFH?
Many reported they disliked the lack of socialization, lack of work life balance, and lack of proper home-work environment or ergonomic set up.
3. WFH created a positive impact on personal and family relationships.

Although our people noted that WFH had a minimal impact on their diet, sleep, and exercise patterns, half the respondents said that working from home has had a significant positive impact on their personal or family relationships.

Because people were able to save time commuting and gain flexibility in how they arranged their work schedules, they found that they had more pockets of time throughout the day to spend with their family.

Ultimately, these positive impacts on personal or family relationships were the strongest driving factors behind overall satisfaction scores in our working from home survey. This is especially true for households with children over 12 years old.

What do you miss most about working from the office?
Socializing with each other, impromptu meetings, and the ergonomic set ups at work were the most common responses.
4. When your home becomes your office, working in a variety of spaces and/or in ergonomic settings can drive greater satisfaction.

The workforce is used to certain comforts and amenities that an office environment can provide. Not surprisingly, when our APME offices transitioned to working from home, people who already had a functional workspace at home with an ergonomic setup reported 14–16% higher satisfaction scores than those who were working on the sofa, bed, etc.

Interestingly, the survey also found that people who worked in a variety of spaces within their home — changing locations throughout the day — were more satisfied. This correlates with Gensler’s workplace research, which found that those who work in a variety of spaces in office environments tend to have higher satisfaction scores.

5. When working from home, people spend less time learning and socializing in groups, and more time virtually collaborating in teams.

To keep client projects on track, strong teamwork is critical, and our survey reported a sharp increase in virtual collaboration. To spend more time connecting with each other on projects and research, our people reported spending less time learning and socializing together when working from home.

Despite organized opportunities for virtual socializing and learning with studio meetings, professional development/training opportunities, vendor presentations, office happy hours, and virtual site tours, people spent more time connecting over work-related matters. This could be because people value using downtime between client and team meetings to unplug over taking advantage of opportunities to socialize virtually.

As we keep adjusting to the new normal in how we work and connect, employers can take survey findings like this into account and plan virtual socializing into workday schedules. We can examine which factors are driving greater employee satisfaction when people work from home — and identify areas for improvement — to inform planning as we return to the workplace, merging the top benefits of working from home and from the office to create a truly hybrid work experience.

Download the full report to find out more.

Special thanks to our team: Shravan Bendapudi, Lijun Cher, Omar Farooq, Katrina Lavery, Natalie Mansoor, Jin Xi Ng, Dhiraj Kumar, and Andrew Waddle

For any media inquiries, please contact Kimberly Beals at .

Nayan Parekh
Nayan is a principal and a global leader in Gensler’s Consulting practice with a focus on the firm’s business in the Asian Pacific. Her 15 years of experience includes providing clients with workplace consultancy, real estate advice, and design and urban strategy services across projects in Asia, the U.K. and Europe. Nayan is based in Singapore. Contact her at .