Insights

Shaping the future of work: our workplace re-entry report

We’ve collected data from global real estate professionals and leaders in client organisations to understand the impact of working from home on business performance and gain insight into how this might shape the future workplace.

2020-07-02

By Nabil Sabet
Group Director – New York, San Francisco, Vancouver

and Charlie Millard
Director, Head of Office – London, Amsterdam

and Frances Gain
Associate, Strategy – London

During the COVID-19 outbreak, we collected information from 500+ global real-estate professionals and leaders in client organisations to explore how the pandemic has impacted work and the workplace. We examine how businesses can embrace new waves of change by enhancing flexibility for employees and adopting new technologies.

Working from home realities

Our survey highlights that a third of global respondents said their companies did not offer flexible working policies before COVID-19. 

Shaping the future of work: our workplace re-entry report section

The ripple effect

The report data shows that there has been no significant decrease in individual productivity or communication while working from home. 

  • Overall, people perceived an increase in productivity.
  • Internal and external communication was positive.
  • Perceptions of employee wellness and satisfaction remain positive. 

In many cases, this means organisations can no longer argue that increasing flexibility for employees is impractical or unproductive. However, we must remember that the success of working from home benefits from past and present organisational support.

Established relationships and team culture are developed by time together in the workplace. Bigger challenges will be seen with onboarding new people. Most participants recognise that a balance of remote and office working will provide the best of both worlds.

Shaping the future of work: our workplace re-entry report section

Return resistance and adjustments

People are more likely to return if the purpose and function of the office is more clearly defined in future. This requires positive culture, empathetic leadership, safe environments and motivating spaces to return to. 

Challenges and solutions

An uncomfortable home office set-up was identified as the leading issue for employees.  Following this was household or family disruption, especially for those living in high-density housing or shared spaces.

The survey suggests solutions might include:

  • Assessing the provision of equipment and financial allowances for the improvement of home workspaces, reducing the burden of cost on employees.
  • Balancing time between the office and remote working. Studies show that working from home up to 3 days a week is optimal and after that, productivity suffers.
  • Solidifying flexibility in company policy to allow people to move further from urban centres.

Despite home comforts, residential spaces are not designed for work, whereas offices are designed as drivers of performance.

Shaping the future of work: our workplace re-entry report section

The future of work

Many businesses may elect to blend remote and office working after lockdown ends, but this won’t appeal to everyone. Some prefer the routine, discipline and camaraderie of the workplace; especially if their living conditions are not supportive.

We have seen high numbers of respondents in Asia wanting to return to the workplace full-time. New options now exist, new solutions have been adopted and each organisation will have to negotiate its own terms with employees.

Negotiating the change

Increased flexibility is highly desirable, but does not mean people want to work remotely all the time. It means more choice, trust and autonomy in terms of allowing employees to determine where and how they will do their best work.

  • A majority of 86% would forgo benefits in exchange for improved flexibility.
  • Many employees would give up existing assigned workstations and private offices, and would be more willing to decentralise in the future.
  • Small numbers would reduce their pay or annual leave days.
Shaping the future of work: our workplace re-entry report section

The workplace still matters

Just because employees feel positive about their experience working from home, it doesn’t mean the future workplace will cease to exist. The home has become a valuable setting for focused worked, but it cannot compete with the community benefits of the workplace.

The change lies in how the workplace will be used. There is no replacement for being together. Businesses should prepare for a shift towards a more collaborative and social setting.

Design for wellbeing

Designing for physical wellbeing has become part of best practice. This year and beyond, interventions and solutions for health and hygiene will prevail. Yet, even in a COVID-secure workplace, we must continue to address mental wellbeing.

By creating workplaces in which people feel psychologically safe, businesses are enabling employees to achieve more and be happier at work. This helps reduce healthcare costs and high turnover associated with stress and burnout.

Shaping the future of work: our workplace re-entry report section

Managing the return

We suggest a two-phased approach to ensure an effective return to the workplace:

  • Re-enter: Bring employees back to work – safely, quickly and without significant expenditure. In the immediate future, most people expect to gradually return in small groups.

  • Rethink: After business continuity has been achieved, we begin to assess the future purpose of the space within the organisation. Once the future use has been determined, investments can be made in long-term solutions.

Immediate return may require environmental adaptations and change management to keep the office functioning effectively. The primary concern is health, with 42% citing concerns about sharing settings or being in close proximity to others. Those that move swiftly and creatively will benefit from increased loyalty, by carefully consulting with employees and embracing their feedback.

Shaping the future of work: our workplace re-entry report section

Structures and hierarchies may change. Expectations and attitudes will need to be aired and balanced with new leadership goals, pressures and financial incentives. Nothing will be the same. There will be a period of adjustment and reintegration during which good communication and authenticity will be crucial.

Lockdown has removed some corporate formalities and revealed colleagues in their home and family settings. This promotes intimacy and appreciation of circumstances, which may help strengthen peer relationships.

Explore our workplace re-entry report in full

If you want to learn more about how your team is experiencing remote working or the transition back to the workplace, please contact: 

Group Director, Nabil Sabet

Director, Charlie Millard

Associate - Strategy, Frances Gain

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