After more than two years of remote work, many businesses are planning or implementing a return to the office as we move toward post-pandemic recovery.
Data released by Microsoft revealed 52 per cent of people are likely to consider transitioning to hybrid work in the year ahead. In addition, our National Market Snapshot showed half of the markets we tracked either saw a flattening of office vacancy rates or a decrease quarter-over-quarter, as it is expected companies will look to resume broad-scale return-to-office plans.
While many employers are eager to resume in-person work, increase collaboration and foster corporate culture, a slight disconnect remains between the motivations of employers and employees when it comes to working arrangements.
Microsoft found 50 per cent of company leaders plan to require full-time in-person work in the year ahead. However, Colliers’ survey data revealed that while 10 per cent of employees would like to return to the office full-time and 10 per cent would like to remain fully remote, the vast majority (80 per cent) fall somewhere in between.
Developing a return-to-office strategy that meets the needs of both employers and employees presents several challenges, as well as many opportunities.
Now more than ever, employees are looking to work in an office space that offers collaboration, connection and culture.
The benefits that come with being physically present cannot be overlooked. As competition for talent remains strong amid The Great Resignation, thoughtful and purposeful office spaces that enhance the employee experience can be a compelling competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.
Rethinking the office blueprint
The very nature of the “utility” of the office has shifted.
In the past, there was a significant focus on creating office space that enhanced individual productivity and concentration. While this is still important, creating a space that draws employees to the office and encourages collaboration, creativity and connection is also vital.
Rebalancing the ratio of space dedicated to individual work with increased allocation to collaborative and community settings will better align ‘why’ we are going into the office with what we experience when we get there.
Employees are looking for the autonomy to choose where to work and the freedom to set their schedules. The desire for choice is a trend that has been intensifying for several years and accelerated during the pandemic.
Offering choice will be critical for employee attraction and retention, as survey data from EY found nine out of 10 employees want work flexibility and 54 per cent said they would quit their job if they are not offered the flexibility they desire.
Creating spaces that best support the ways people work throughout the day – whether it be a creative brainstorm, or quiet, focused work – creates both options (and therefore choice) for employees, and flexibility for employers who grapple with the uncertainty of how many workers will be in the office on a given day.
Once employees are comfortable using different places for specific work activities and feel they have choice and control, it can compensate for the potential emotional loss of not having their own designated desk.
Choice is something employers desire as well, and something landlords are looking to accommodate. Tenant businesses are now open to paying slightly more for flexible lease terms, and landlords are reshaping previously occupied lease space into common areas that can be used by any tenant in the building, as needed.
Curating space to enhance the human experience
Curating experiences where employees can feel inspired, empowered and motivated is key. If professionals feel they can work just as effectively at home as they can at the office, there needs to be a determining factor that brings them on site.
At a time when many have become comfortable with the benefits of remote work, strategies that give consideration to eliciting these emotions and that incorporate HR policies, team norms, technology tools and space design will be important in the future appeal of the workplace.
Employers will need to focus on enabling equity and inclusivity, and improving tools and processes to facilitate hybrid work teams, especially in mixed-presence scenarios.
This could include creating hubs for collaboration, dedicated spaces for deep focus, or inspiring social spaces that facilitate an organization’s unique work culture. It may also include high-end technology or tools that workers may not have access to at home.
Workplaces that enable impromptu opportunities for employees to connect with one another will also support employee satisfaction and retention, as survey data from Envoy found socializing with colleagues was the top factor that excited respondents about going into the office.
Microsoft also found that employees who have strong relationships with colleagues outside of their immediate team reported greater satisfaction with their employers.
Well-being is an increasingly important factor for today’s job seekers as LinkedIn data saw a 147 per cent increase in the sharing of job posts that mention well-being since 2019.
When curating workplaces, leaders recognize there is more than “just a keyboard” in employees’ work lives – that they have a full set of diverse needs, expect fresh air and good light, and value access to wellness facilities.
Through reshaping how we think about the office, organizations have the unique opportunity to find new ways to foster team culture and curate an experience that responds to the desires of current and future employees while also meeting the needs of the business.
Organizations can be thoughtful and purposeful about when and how they bring people together, both at the office and online in a hybrid work environment.
– With contributions from Ron Jasinski