One of the biggest changes that came from the COVID-19 pandemic was how and where people worked. It of course impacted people and businesses on an employee level, but the changes have also had an impact on entire industries. One of those industries is corporate real estate.
As we move forward from the pandemic, corporations are embracing a new workplace model – the hybrid workforce. Gone are the days when everyone is in the office five days a week. The vast majority of corporate occupiers are reimagining how and what work is done in the office and that is surely going to have a ripple effect throughout the commercial real estate industry.
The Great Divide: Remote vs In-Office Activities
It’s clear that today more work is being done remotely compared to pre-pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean every task is handled virtually. What we’re finding is a clear delineation is forming between what happens in the office and what happens for remote workers.
Many companies are finding that some aspects of the job are just better suited for in-office. For example, the top activities that will still happen onsite include:
In general, tasks that involve talent management, business development, and creative collaboration are still happening in-person.
But for many businesses, the bulk of the daily work is execution tasks. These are the tasks that workers are performing remotely. Execution tasks are typically more automated and clearly defined tasks that people do on a regular basis. One of the most basic examples of an execution task and the employee experience is reading and responding to emails. It doesn’t take oversight or collaboration, there’s a clearly defined way of completing the task and it’s done the same way no matter where you’re working.
During RefineRE’s webinar Back to Anywhere, Ben Wright of SquareFoot shared some eye-opening statistics on what job tasks businesses plan to keep in-house versus the hybrid work model. According to a ULI survey of real estate executives:
76% say talent and strategic management tasks will happen in-office.
78% say executive tasks will be done online.
Clearly, there’s a general consensus on not only where work will be done in the future but what type of work will be done in various locations. However, Motley Fool’s Shannon McLendon countered with a different perspective. With the right technology, workers can do basically anything from home. It’s simply a matter of knowing what will be the most productive for the business.
Watch the Back to Anywhere panel discussion on-demand here.
Deciding Who Makes Remote Work Decisions
Another logistical matter now at the forefront is deciding who in the company is going to make remote work decisions and employ a hybrid team. For the most part, it seems that companies are taking a strategic, data-driven approach, which makes sense given that remote work is uncharted territory for many companies.
For Back to Anywhere panelist Eric Nelson and the team at LiveRamp, reshaping the way people worked has been a group effort that involves employees. Eric’s team analyzed their entire workforce, looking at the structure of teams and what tasks were part of certain job roles. They also conducted employee surveys to get a clear picture of what the workforce wanted. This analysis is what LiveRamp has used to make workforce decisions moving forward.
When analyzing their current qualitative and quantitative workforce data to determine what can be done remotely, LiveRamp looked at a few things concerning the employee experience specifically:
A key takeaway here is that employees are an integral part of the process. Employees having more of a say in the workplace is something that’s on the rise in many industries. To remain competitive, it’s in a business’s best interest to get as much data as possible directly from employees and factor the information in when making remote work decisions.
One interesting point made during the webinar by RefineRE’s own Ryan Turner is that executives and corporate occupiers are looking at new data points such as “days saved in commute time to the physical office.” What this tells us is that data and the people who manage it are playing a key role in the decision-making about where work is done in the modern workplace. A variety of data is now serving as a bridge between property management and HR as decision-makers figure out how to align physical spaces to accommodate a remote, less structured workforce with hybrid workplaces.
Other metrics that are coming into play involve actual work activity. These metrics are being used to track the impact of workforce changes and determine if the changes have a positive effect. The information is also pivotal in determining the best utilization for physical spaces. In addition to data analysis, companies are asking employees directly for their input on improving the work environment.
In short, decisions are being made by three factors: CEOs, employees, and data. Employees are supplying the data that execs are using to make workplace decisions, including how hybrid the workplace is going to be post-pandemic.
Newfound Challenge: Keeping Remote Workers Engaged With Remote Working
As more workers trade in their cubicles for a home office, companies are faced with a new challenge – keeping those employees engaged. Employee engagement is a critical factor for productivity, retention, and satisfaction no matter where the employee works. That is adding a layer of complexity as companies embrace the hybrid workforce model.
What are companies doing to prevent remote workers from disengaging?
Flexibility is a necessity as everyone figures out exactly what will work best for employees and the business. Companies are going to have to monitor productivity and make adjustments to the work model and company culture as needed. At LiveRamp they’ve dubbed their process “flexibility with predictability” because it’s based on data but as more information comes in the findings can change.
All the analysis should pay off in one important way – making the commute worth it when remote employees do come into the office. Emphasis is put on bringing remote employees into the office for certain tasks that enhance engagement. This includes social activities that help to foster relationships and build a team mindset.
Failing to take the time to do this could have the opposite effect. If hybrid employees spend time commuting and find there’s little need or benefit to being there, it will hurt employee engagement. Communal workspaces need to be a purposeful place, and there needs to be a good reason for employees to be there to maximize engagement in and out of the physical office.
Space utilization is another key concern in terms of employee engagement. When workers do come into the physical office if it feels enjoyable, comfortable, and functional for their needs that is going to help keep them engaged. A lot of thought is going into how spaces perform for employees rather than forcing employees to perform in any given space.
Something else companies have to be mindful of is employee equality. When everyone was working together in the office with the same resources and accessibility this wasn’t an issue. Now as workers are spread out, equality is a factor that can affect employee engagement.
One trend that is becoming more prominent in the effort to ensure employee equality among remote and in-office workers is hotel desking, meaning the desks aren’t personal spaces where an employee permanently resides. They are neutral workspaces where anyone can sit down for the day and carry out their tasks while utilizing video conferencing. It’s something that Motley Fool is putting in place in order to make their offices more functional for all employees whether they are in-office every day or coming in only once a month.
Ultimately, if a business wants to improve employee engagement regardless of where the work is being done, then they should listen to their employees. Internal surveys and one-on-one interviews tell you what employees want, need, and expect from the employee experience. Meeting those wants, needs, and expectations is the surest way of keeping employees engaged.
In forging their new course, many companies are tapping their workforce to get a better idea of what work environments and the hybrid model should look like moving forward. As we enter a period when employees have more bargaining power, companies are wise to take this strategy. If not, they risk losing good employees that can now apply for jobs anywhere in the country, regardless of office space.
About the Back to Anywhere Panel Discussion
The Back to Anywhere panel discussion took place in September 2021 with four CRE industry experts working in different verticals across the country. The hour-long conversation explored many of the biggest concerns and questions of corporate occupiers who are preparing themselves for post-pandemic workplaces.
Ben Wright @ SquareFoot
Head of Flexible Office Solutions
Ryan Turner @ RefineRE
Founder and CEO of RefineRE
Shannon McLendon @ The Motley Fool
Director of Office Services & Real Estate
Eric Nelson @ LiveRamp
Head of Global Workplace Experience