Working from home – or ‘WHF’ to use the Covid-era lingo – has become the norm for a vast number of Brits during 2020. Government stay-at-home requests got companies across the country acquainted with the technology to allow it, and some employers and employees may be reluctant to return to the ‘old normal’. It has undoubtedly changed the nature of what is seen as a “normal” workplace.
However, the transition has not been without its headaches for employers, and even more so for those firms working alongside their client-bases to understand how best to devise a modernised working solution.
HR Wire spoke with Ken Raisbeck, executive director and head of occupier advisory services for EMEA at CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services company, to gain an insight to the decisions employees and employers now face.
Raisbeck explains that CBRE is working closely with its clients to support them through changing work environments regarding office spaces and WFH.
“We’ve done a number of things right from the very beginning of the pandemic in helping organisations”, says Raisbeck. Discussing how companies have started working from home, and the implications of that as offices start to open, he says that now, some organisations are beginning to move their planning horizon from the near-term to the mid-term.
When looking to the future for more permanent changes in the current way of working, Raisbeck highlights three key aspects that CBRE is taking into consideration, the first being a “combination or balance between office, home, and other”. The mix between traditional and new working spaces has “accelerated” towards becoming a likely permanent feature of work, enabled by the adoption of remote working technology and employee preferences developed during the pandemic, accoriding to Raisbeck.
Secondly, he notes that new working arrangements could see “occupiers take space for fewer employees”. He says: “While there has been a trend of densification over many years, that trend will pivot and there will now be a trend that helps organisations be less densely populated.
“It helps near-term social distancing, but I think densification trends are not going to be fashionable anymore. I think we will find workplaces being much more intensively managed, and without doubt be much more flexible than they have been in the past.”
A third and final alteration that Raisbeck expects to become a long-term aspect of working environments is that there will “continue to be a premium held on high quality, well managed buildings with great infrastructure”.
He says: “If we are going to take people to offices it has got to be the right experience for them. It has got to be the right quality to help both attract them, and also ensure their productivity and performance.”
Assuring productivity in a hybrid workplace situation is a “key” priority for many firms, Raisbeck notes. A recent CBRE survey of real estate executives at global client companies reveals that many are planning to accommodate hybrid work arrangements. These arrangements offer employees the choice of when to work in the office, from home or from elsewhere. Additionally, nearly 77% of respondents plan to offer some portion of their workforce the choice of working remotely on a full-time basis, nearly twice as many that did so prior to the pandemic.
Therefore, Raisbeck and the rest of those aiming to adjust to new WFH trends must try and understand how best to enhance productivity when teams within the company are not working directly together.
“How do you ensure [productivity and efficiency] even at a very practical level? If you say to people ‘you can work from home three days a week’, do you just allow them to pick whatever dates they want?”, Raisbeck asks. “Because that might mean on any given day in the building you might have full occupancy, but on one day only.”
Raisbeck concludes that in order to get the capacity right, businesses need an intervention to manage occupancy strategies of how buildings are then used. The productivity of hybrid working decisions is hard to measure due to the lack of comparison to previous occasions. Raisbeck hopes for a “post-Covid situation” that will help understand the “true performance implication” on productivity.
However, Raisbeck stresses that what is certain is the change in how the office is viewed by employees and employers alike. While employers are concerned about a lack of brand representation, employees struggle with losing out on “talent development”.
“How do you create a sense of brand? How do you create a sense of team? How do you manage somebody’s actual productivity and performance when you’re not sat with them anymore?”, he asks. “A whole management shift has to happen here to really empower and equip managers to manage your virtual workforce.”
Moreover, working remotely is not enabling workers to “be sat with more senior people and their managers to learn on the job and gain experience”. Therefore, Raisbeck feels that “if we are going to reduce our time in the office, the role of the office is actually more important now than it has ever been”.
Traditional office layouts may start to reflect a rise in demand for WFH and hybrid working situations, but we know the physical office will remain important. This is driven by a need to foster collaboration; employees want more than just somewhere to work; they want a space to exchange ideas, collaborate and innovate. We also saw before the pandemic that the office played a key role in allowing employees to engage with the culture of the organisation. Today it seems that companies are living off the fumes of the culture established before Covid.