A Fresh Start For The Office: How COVID-19 Has Changed Workplace Expectations

The office needs a fresh start to remain competitive in the next normal.
  • We’ve learned that people can be productive when working remotely, which means that our motivation for going into the office is different from what it used to be.
  • Workers have renewed expectations for flexibility, which means the office needs a fresh start to remain competitive in the next normal.
  • The need for the “destination workplace” has never been greater, and clear focus on experience and design will help organizations bring employees back to the office.

CBRE recently published the results of its Workforce Sentiment Survey. The survey collected data around employee experience and expectations while working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As organizations rethink their real estate strategies and redefine their work models and arrangements, it’s crucial that they understand employee sentiment towards the workplace. While several reports have already found that workers miss the office and are willing to go back to it, the workplace that they return to will be different from pre-pandemic times. 

This is due to the fact that employees and company leaders alike have experienced first hand the benefits of remote work; specifically, they’ve realized that people can be productive when working remotely. This means that the motivation for going into the office will be different in the future than it was in the past. 

A fresh start for the office

CBRE identified five key insights from its survey that could lead to a fresh start for the office. 

1. Remote work looks and feels productive to most. The report found that 90% of employees and company leaders feel productivity is the same or greater while working remotely. 

2. Remote work is here to stay. 85% of employees prefer to work remotely at least two to three days a week in the future. 

3. The office is here to stay, too. 60% of respondents will return to the office in the future for community and collaboration. 

4. Real estate portfolios might look different. The survey found that 43% of respondents would consider working from a company-provided location nearer to their home at least a few times a week. 

5. There is no one-size-fits-all for remote policies. 54% of company leaders prefer a hybrid arrangement for their team that combines working remotely and from the office. 

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With both employers and employees realizing that remote work has negligible perceived negative impact on productivity, remote work will likely become a core part of any work arrangement. This means that appetite for remote work will increase, and along with it expectations for more flexibility.

This will naturally have an impact on office utilization, design, and footprint; especially among companies that adopt a hybrid work model that enables workers to combine working remotely with working from the office. 

According to CBRE, “the office of the future may be modified to support impromptu collaboration, creative ideation and social connections that are best served in person. It may become a communal hub for training, seminars and career development. In all cases, the office must be equipped with the appropriate technology to effectively connect a more distributed workforce.”

Since the office can now exist anywhere, real estate strategies will need to reflect this shift in the way we work. 43% of survey respondents said they would consider working from a company-provided location nearer to their home; this means that organizations will have to diversify their real estate portfolios. This diversification will impact workplace location, size, and type. 

Many organizations will likely shift to a hub-and-spoke model, like the one the flexible workspace industry provides, to bring offices closer to employees. Landlords and property developers will also likely work with organizations in order to cater to their new real estate needs; with many landlords willing to renegotiate and lease space on a shorter-term basis.

As the workforce becomes much more fluid than ever before, organizations will be tasked with implementing work arrangements that are best suited for their company and employees.  

“Approaches to remote work will vary by company, department and leader, which is why it’s important for companies to create clear but flexible remote-work policies. Regardless of when or how employees work remotely, it will be important to empower managers to create their own team norms, behaviors and expectations.”

At the end of the day, the reality is that for many workers, the amount of time spent in the office may never return to pre-COVID levels. As a result, the office needs to change, especially if organizations want workers to come into the office on a part-time basis. 

The need for the “destination workplace” has never been greater, and clear focus on experience and design will help organizations bring employees back to the office.

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