There are certainly plenty of exceptions but the vast majority of office-using businesses are facing up to the fact that the hybrid work schedule is here to stay. It started before the pandemic but now it’s in widespread use. The haggling over how many days per week employees will have to appear in the office will continue but, in the end, employers will have to adapt to the new flex work week, and they will have to adapt their offices too. Instead of viewing the obliteration of the traditional work schedule as a loss, office managers have an opportunity to transform their space into one that is highly desirable to the worker and conducive to productivity. The transformation, however, entails much more than creating more collaboration areas. It’s all about a multi-faceted real estate strategy that will take occupiers’ offices into the future, taking their employees along with them.
The need for change in office workspace is becoming increasingly evident to companies. Some may be slow to act, but it is certainly on their minds. A full 66 percent of business decision-makers are considering executing a redesign of their workspace offerings to better serve hybrid workers’ needs, according to Colliers’ new 2023 Global Occupier Outlook report. “Ideally, the workplace should give people everything that they get at home plus a lot more, commute notwithstanding,” Scott Nelson, global CEO of Occupier Services with Colliers, told Propmodo. “The workplace should provide access to more amenities inside the space, inside the building and in the neighborhood, as well as access to better technology and different types of spaces for different things that happen throughout the day.” When workers come in, they want to know they have a place to land, a comfortable place to sit with all the requisite tools of the job, and as the hours progress, they may want to be able to pop into a small meeting room for an impromptu team huddle, or step into a private space to conduct an interview, or take a coffee and casually talk shop in an open space with other employees.
Creating a workspace to accommodate workers on various schedules doesn’t start with furniture placement or tearing down walls. It starts with establishing the right management structure. Managers may be accustomed to working with a staff of all-remote workers or a staff that spends the entire week in the office but today, they have to be well-versed in overseeing an environment that caters to multiple schedules if the workplace is to be a productive destination. “If the C-suite is saying we’re in the office four days a week, what happens during those four days?” Nelson said. “It’s important how we are managing and leading people, so they get the most out of those four days a week in the office.” The effectiveness of a hybrid team is only as good as its strategy. A proper scheme has to take into consideration a number of factors, including the various roles involved in each area of the business and how work gets done in those areas. What meetings happen and how they happen, what events take place, and what experiences the employer wants workers to have in terms of company culture? It’s an environment that occupiers can create–after ensuring that the facility is in the best location–through the manipulation of their square footage.
With the office market still struggling in the post-pandemic climate, there has been plenty of talk about tenants downsizing as they revisit their space needs, but a new trend is emerging among occupiers that are reevaluating their accommodations for hybrid workers. Increasingly, companies are repurposing existing spaces to meet employers’ evolving demands, and it allows for the simultaneous opportunity to align their space with corporate sustainability goals as well. “There’s not necessarily some new earth-shattering design that’s never been done before,” Nelson noted. “It’s more about making sure that the design is optimized for these different ways of managing people, the experience people have, what kind of work needs to get done.” Some companies may convert a few private offices into collaboration space or reconfigure a sea of workstations into a meeting room or transform an underutilized area into small nooks for conducting private business or heads-down work. Many companies are also finding that they don’t need less space because workers aren’t spending five days in the office, but instead, they are discovering that they need to tweak the space they have to provide a premier workplace experience.
Once employers have made alterations to the workspace in an effort to meet all employees’ various workspace demands, it’s imperative to confirm that the changes are actually effective, and that is where key performance indicators come into play. There are many other measurement criteria beyond the simple occupancy of space, including measurements of productivity, and measurements of employee engagement as it relates to various workspaces. Culling performance information and studying employee feedback on changes to the workspace allows employers to evaluate results and utilize those results to improve.
“It’s very much about what the company is looking to achieve with regard to people’s development and productivity, and how do you use tools, including the workplace, to ensure that people get the most out of their employment with the company,” Nelson said. When people come into the office, they don’t want to perform the tasks that they could do at home, like checking emails and participating in video calls. They want experiences. Sixty-five percent of workers desire more in-person time with their teams, according to the Colliers report. Providing experiences can come in the form of collaborative areas for scheduled meetings or collision-type space, where people run into each other and begin a dialogue. In either scenario, employees get something they can’t get at home, and that is the ability to build relationships or find common interests with others in the company, and in the process, gain exposure to new innovations and opportunities.
Statistics from the Colliers report suggest that the gulf between what employers want and what workers want is not substantial. In North America, of seven disadvantages to remote work, 34 percent of occupiers cited the loss of cultural identity and cohesion as the greatest disadvantage. Notably, only 3 percent pointed to loss of productivity as the biggest drawback. “There may be some folks who view the carefully crafted creation of various spaces as companies just trying to make sure their offices get used because they’re paying for them, and that’s kind of missing the point in our view,” Nelson said.
The pandemic just expedited the inevitable. The hybrid work week was destined to happen due to technology. People can work from anywhere. Nevertheless, the return-to-office is happening, and a notable percentage of office occupiers are preparing to have employees in the office more often than not. But employers can’t expect to bring their staff back for four days out of the week without providing them with an environment that offers them the workspace flexibility they have at home, the proper space to capitalize on face-to-face collaboration opportunities and amenities that will make them want to come back into the office the next day.