Written by Globe Content Studio
Placemaking, safety and diversity aim to attract workers back to office
In the midst of the pandemic, major commercial real estate stakeholders, from construction to real estate firms, are rethinking the office.
Organizations are already reopening their offices in some markets, but they can expect a different experience, says Robyn Baxter, senior vice-president and managing director, workplace advisory at Colliers. “People miss the social relationships, and some aspects of work just aren’t thriving at home – brainstorming, mentoring, spontaneous conversations, the feeling of simply knowing what’s going on,” she says. “And some people just don’t have a good setup at home to work remotely.”
According to the Colliers May 2021 report Office Recovery: The Great Experiment, 58 per cent of companies surveyed said they will implement a hybrid work model, mixing at-home and in-office. Two-thirds of companies are still not sure how many days they want workers in the office and 33 per cent are not sure how they’ll manage the new work model.
“People have come to value the flexibility and choice they’ve had over the past 18 months, and many will resist giving up that freedom once they return to the office,” says Sarah Bramley, vice-president, workplace advisory at Colliers. “For instance, people like being able to choose which work tasks to complete first, when to take a break, start and end times, and so on. With the increased levels of trust and accountability people have experienced, many worry that a return to the office means that the positive advancements from the past 18 months might be forgotten.”
In addition, workers want to be reassured that the post-pandemic workplace will be safe, she says.
With a focus on enhancing connection, collaboration and community, organizations are encouraging workers to return to the office, at least for some of the time.
There is more pressure than ever to create the workplace as a destination. Coming to the office to work alone at your desk will feel like a waste of time – given that individual work has proven to be effective at home – without the commute.
“There’s no right answer to a hybrid work program,” Bramley says. “It must be built to suit the type of business, the culture of the company and people’s needs.”
Cathy French, senior vice-president and managing director, workplace advisory at Colliers, says the path to hybrid working is still evolving.
“We believe hybrid work is here to stay and organizations who plan strategically will have a competitive advantage in attracting, retaining and engaging top talent,” French says.
According to a recent McKinsey global executive study, nine out of ten organizations will be combining remote and on-site working.
“Several studies show employees’ ability to work flexibly will impact whether or not they stay with their employer post-pandemic,” adds French.
Hybrid working also supports diversity and inclusion by enabling differences in employee workstyles and individual needs.
However, some say that if people are not present in the office, they may be forgotten for promotions or work opportunities. It is incumbent on managers and organizations to be inclusive and equitable, and to look for the benefits. According to a recent Gartner survey, hybrid teams are most likely to show high levels of inclusion (versus fully on-site teams) and 62 per cent of knowledge workers are high performers when afforded significant work flexibility.
As discussions continue on what the office of the future looks like, companies and landlords alike need to think about aspects that make the physical workplace appealing and rewarding.
It’s important to offer incentives to coax office workers back, says Richard Joy, executive director at Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) Toronto branch. Workers are still making up their minds about the balance between working at home or in an office.
“While there’s still a lot of uncertainty about going to the office, I think there’s reason to be confident that there will be a return, particularly to downtown cores,” he says.
In response, there is a movement which began well before the pandemic, toward office “placemaking” which focuses on a people-centered approach and strengthening connections and community through the built environment. It can result in changing the emphasis from individual desks to creating places that facilitate spur-of-the-moment teamwork, mentoring and even social connections. It also needs to imagine how to allow teams to be effective when they are distributed across locations, including home.
Building owners are looking for ways to support the transition to the office. These might include having a daycare in the building for working parents, places people can pick up a healthy prepared meal to take home, or holding events during the day to create a draw. Owners are imagining how to provide great experiences and help people make effective use of their time.
The key is to be thoughtful about which work activities are better together and to avoid assumptions that are based on pre-2019 experiences. Now is the time to be strategic about “the office” and make sure it is a highly functional, fit-for-purpose place.