The core driver of the Hybrid Workplace Model approach is the employee. While most employees appreciate and respond well to the flexibility remote working offers, companies and their decision-makers are still debating the broader impact of large-scale remote work on productivity. Some companies, like JP Morgan Chase & Co. or Netflix, argue their employees are less productive at home and are pushing to reopen and return to the office sooner rather than later. Alternatively, companies like Apple and BlackRock have stated that they only plan to return to the office in a limited way after seeing great success with distance working.
In the era of COVID-19, most employees have proven that working from home can be done, albeit with limitations. Even throughout the height of the pandemic, employees collaborated, shared knowledge and were innovative.
In the past, office strategies focused on the office's supply-side managing, improving and arranging physical space – giving assigned workspaces for employees to use – and not on the employee or human-centric experience. The shift towards acknowledging employees’ demands for both physical location and work flexibility has been brewing for years, and in 2020 those needs accelerated with COVID-19. Pre-pandemic, this shift required radical changes to modern office strategies that suddenly had to account for demands like proximity to employees’ homes or the need for teams to hold impromptu meetings conveniently. Furthermore, as groups, collaboration and work styles tend to change on a more frequent timetable, those aspects of employee demand need regular reevaluation.
The traditional office, its policies and operations, will face challenges to satisfy the demand Hybrid Workplace Models require, unless its value proposition and contribution to the workforce transforms post-pandemic. But there are four critical reasons why it is believed the Hybrid Workplace Model is here to stay:
The recently coined ‘green recovery’ is at the forefront of business leaders’ minds, especially when it comes to corporate real estate. We now have an opportunity to reset the “baseline” for office energy usage. Workplace decisions will no longer be based squarely on when employees return to the workplace (in whatever capacity is realized). Considerations on the environment, wellbeing, sustainable practices, building design, workplace strategy and infrastructure will likely be front-and-center in the decision making.
2. Talent attraction and retention
With technology removing geographical boundaries for specific roles, the marketplace has indeed opened up, creating a level playing field where salary/benefits and flexibility are the core differentiators. However, the office lives on because not everyone may want to work from home, and the workplace remains a critical cultural and social hub for employees. Still, the workplace needs to be attractive, offering something that employees want to experience and have amenities that employees want to access, providing ‘me’ ’we’ and ‘us’ spaces to support different roles and work preferences. Workplace experience will undergo a further transformation as amenities will likely need to be more accessible, unique and enhance social interaction, brand recognition and a commitment to well-being.For example, a Class Triple-A premier office building location will almost certainly remain attractive for companies in the foreseeable future. When eventually accessible again, these options draw a younger demographic of employees with dreams of working in the “Big City” with all the social and amenity attractions. Draw to the Triple-A office building will not change but will transform how they are used and support employees moving forward.
Outside of dense urban areas, site selection will become more complex and of great importance depending on what strategies companies decide to pursue. The site selection process will pay more attention to employee residences, local offers of good restaurants, gyms, schools and convenience stores. They will serve employees at different stages in their lives, with other individual drivers (first-time buyers, young families).
3. Workplace Technology
Key factors to the new way of working through workplace technology allow employees to a) feel connected to their organizations both inside and outside the office and b) support their workplace’s return to work, whatever form it takes in the future. One observation is that the workplace technology industry has become even more saturated and confusing than ever before. Organizations need to focus on what they want their technology outcomes to be rather than purchasing systems because they feel they need to. The informed and measured approach in system selection from workplace experience applications to reservation platforms should be taken. The functionality and how they embed into operations now and post-pandemic are critical for maximizing investment and adoption.
4. Flexibility and Agility
The debate around hybrid and flex work models started because of the inflexible nature of office buildings. While the past 20 years have seen several of the “work” elements of real estate - workplace strategy, experience and technology - provide employees increased flexibility, Hybrid Workplace Models are now allowing organizations to adopt flexibility as a core component in their physical real estate and portfolio strategies.
Shorter commute times, work from home policies, hub & spoke models, the ’15-minute city’ or the ’20-minute neighborhood’ (having everything in your community or reach within 15 or 20 minutes) – are all concepts achievable only if ”instant access” is implemented through infrastructure, which carries a cost.
In an effort to mitigate these costs, most organizations may put these workplace model choices up to employees, providing access to co-working locations as an option for employees, or perhaps partial access to the regional offices.
COVID-19 fundamentally changed the definition of what constitutes an office today, and how the office will all play out is still only speculative. What is clear is that work has changed. By adding flexibility and agility to a portfolio, organizations provide choice to their employees and mitigate risk through diversification should another unforeseen global event occur.
Senior Business Consultant
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