Evolving Workforces

Improved Experience, Optimized Space

October 24, 2022 5 Minute Read

Woman walking through door

In the summer of 2020, leaders of a global professional services company contemplated the uncertain future of their offices. With most employees having shifted to remote work, the company’s plans to open a new headquarters had stalled, leaving them undecided about what to do with their real estate portfolio. 

By the following spring, the company had adopted a hybrid work schedule and overhauled the service delivery at its now-open headquarters. Because the opening had been delayed several months, leaders had time to rethink their approach and create a space and a meaningful workplace experience that optimizes connections and collaboration.

“We were able to come back to the office because of this,” said an executive at the company. “We know technology and experience in the office needs to be much better than what’s available at home.” 

Environment Evolution

Organizations across the globe have been emphasizing flexibility, employee-focused culture and an overall better workplace experience. Supercharged by the pandemic, leaders were forced to explore new options and experiment to find what worked best for their companies. Many have decided to abandon their pre-pandemic office experience for good and replace it with a workplace designed to foster collaboration and deliver on employee wants and needs. To entice people back to these new-and-improved spaces, leaders are betting on the importance of an upgraded experience, more conference areas, opportunities to connect with colleagues and a streamlined design informed by workers’ preferences.  

“The ability to be productive is just one component of an overall work experience,” said Marshall O’Moore, CBRE’s Head of Agile Advisory. “But it’s all meaningless if people don’t come to the office, and they won’t unless they feel like they have a good reason to.”

Workers are now returning to U.S. offices at the highest rate since the pandemic.   However, getting people to use them with regularity relies more on providing an experience that can’t be replicated elsewhere. 

One part of that experience is optimizing the workplace for collaboration and conversation. Companies are allocating more room for comfortable spaces, high-tech meeting rooms and helpful amenities like on-demand space booking, wayfinding via employee-facing mobile apps, and digital ticketing for workplace events. This also includes providing more resources that create a level playing field for when remote employees interface with in-office colleagues. 

CBRE’s Spring 2022 Occupier Sentiment Survey found that almost half of executives are working with their technology teams to create a more equitable experience for off-site workers.  They’re also collecting utilization data like badge swipes, room sensors and visual observations from front-of-house staff to fine-tune employee in-office experiences, along with making cultural changes to support flexibility and hybrid work. 

“People are coming back to the office for different reasons, typically to network and collaborate with their peers,” said Susan Wasmund, Senior Managing Director for CBRE Occupancy Management. “A very high percentage—69% of survey respondents—are rethinking how they design their offices and deliver amenities to support a new way of working.”

Although offices are changing to better support collaboration, that doesn’t mean people won’t have access to individual workspaces or smaller, quiet rooms. But with so many large organizations committing to hybrid or remote-first models, the office is evolving to be less focused on individual work and more on partnership, brainstorming and team building. 

Driving a Successful Return

In addition to changes in how offices are designed, companies are reexamining how the workplace affects employee wellbeing. Employees at major organizations are returning to offices that feel warmer and more welcoming. Front-of-house teams receive ongoing training inspired by the hospitality industry that emphasizes empathy and effective communications. 

“If experience is done well, it makes people feel seen,” said Christy Kingsbury, CBRE’s Global Lead for Technical Talent and Training. “If a workplace is intentionally focused on experience, it makes you glad you came and gives you energy you don’t get working from home. Especially for workers who onboarded remotely during the pandemic, it helps them get a better sense of the culture and feel like they’re making a difference in the organization.”

Culture impacts employee wellbeing and connects them to their employer, which can influence how long they decide to stay at a company, their job performance and career growth. In addition to a focus on wellbeing, opportunities for networking and socialization—slowed and complicated by Covid—are becoming a core function of the office. 

“The most interesting companies are thinking about having days when managers are going to be on-site and accessible, offering the opportunity for networking and development and tailoring and targeting amenities specifically for those workers,” said Executive Managing Director and Global Head of Workplace Design, Lenny Beaudoin. In a recent Fortune  interview, he noted that 80% of CBRE’s clients, which together occupy more than 350 million square feet of space, are redesigning their workplaces to support remote-first or hybrid work models.

While concerns about the end of the office are proving to be overblown, the workplace is changing. Companies now have a rare chance to create a place their people want to work from regularly.

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