As Canadian companies position themselves in the coming weeks, months and even years to redefine their workspaces and offices, it’s important not to lose sight of how these spaces will drive or hinder worker productivity and our sense of well-being.
We can tackle this challenge partly by reviewing what the data is showing us. Since the pandemic began, Colliers International has developed three surveys focused on productivity, the workplace and the effects of COVID-19.
In June, Colliers International conducted a survey of 445 commercial tenants in Canada. The respondents included a mix of office, industrial and retail tenants across varying business types and geographies.
The survey asked the tenants (employers in this case) to rate their staff productivity during the transition to work-from-home. On average, the employers noted a productivity decrease of nearly 23 per cent with workers toiling remotely at home.
In a separate survey about productivity, we found managers tended to feel their team’s productivity has been in further decline in more recent months.
What’s coming post-pandemic
However, our latest findings showed 84 per cent of employee respondents indicated they have felt more productive working from home, especially as the pandemic wore on.
One survey found more managers are working in the office a few days a week, compared with employees, who were more likely to work from home often or always.
That physical/visual disconnection could partly explain why managers believe their teams are less productive or why coordination and productivity is suffering within some teams.
Perhaps more telling about what’s coming next, though, our November survey found that tenants, on average, indicated 96 per cent of their employees would return to the office once a COVID-19 vaccine had been developed and distributed.
Moreover, only three per cent of respondents indicated plans to shut their offices permanently.
So, what does this all mean for our existing and future workplaces?
We believe the workplace remains critical to the success of most organizations, but only insofar as employers can show the value of maintaining the workplace.
If working in the office is a choice, what will drive people to choose to come into the office? What activities and behaviours are best enabled within the physical workspace?
Work-from-home novelty is wearing off
Many thought this work-from-home experience would be a short-term situation, but after nine months, there is no end in sight and the novelty is wearing thin.
Zoom Happy Hours, a parade of video meetings, virtual whiteboards and upcoming virtual holiday parties all spell tech fatigue — especially as the realities of a second wave of COVID-19 infections and lockdowns take hold, impacting our mental health and sense of well-being.
Pandemic stress, economic woes and fear of an uncertain future are other factors that harm our ability to concentrate, achieve deep flow and perform at our best, no matter where we are working.
Our latest survey this fall, which focused on workers’ experience in the office, showed people feel more productive when they feel more connected to their teams.
What is productivity?
The challenges presented by the pandemic should also spur us to rethink productivity.
In a knowledge economy, being “productive” requires more than being visible at the office or appearing “busy.” Productivity today requires individuals and teams to balance efficiency with effectiveness while finding ways to add real value.
Productivity should be measured based on results and impact rather than hours worked, meeting frequency and place of work. To empower our teams to “add value,” the workplace has to evolve and keep up.
For instance, employers would benefit from producing their own employee surveys to fuel and guide the development of new practices to optimize productivity both in terms of office use and work-from-home.
Managers will also need to develop strong protocols over sanitation, technology, physical spacing and meeting formats.
Having clear in-office operating plans, end-of-trip facilities for cyclists, flexible shift options, wellness programs and touchless tech tools could all help to promote enjoyment and efficiency for workers in the office.
It is also essential for managers to have open conversations with their teams about what they need to thrive within the new normal.
Workplaces must evolve
The future workplace provides an opportunity to build a results-driven ecosystem. It can be developed to provide flexibility for the organization and its people, with the processes, tools and spaces they need to move between the modes of collaborating, socializing, learning and focusing.
This crisis could spell the end to the anonymous and homogeneous office, by renewing our focus on what makes an exceptional workspace that reflects and enhances the identity, mission and values of the enterprise and providing an environment that brings people together to do their best work.
Before the pandemic, many organizations had already moved away from the standardized, individual-driven work environments to pivot to collaboration, knowledge-sharing and innovation.
There are many successful examples of dynamic workplaces that support a positive employee experience and facilitate a variety of work activities in tailored, flexible spaces.
Our findings show people miss the connection and interactions of being in the office, while suggesting our sense of productivity needs to be reconsidered. We know many unplanned interactions or on-the-fly conversations help to drive creativity and problem-solving, while building relationships within a company.
While there is an increased desire to work from home at least occasionally, the office of the future can become the hub of corporate culture, enabling social connection and collaboration, while still supporting individual work required as part of the work process — especially for staff who don’t have a comfortable or appropriate workspace at home.
Our data models predict a permanent work-from-home arrangement would affect the demand for office space in the market nationally by an average of nine per cent over the next eight years.
That means the overwhelming majority of office space will still be required, so long as workers feel the work environment gives more than it takes.