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Back from the brink: what happens next for corporate real estate?

As news of a vaccine raises hopes of economic recovery, our latest WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at what will happen to the shape of workplace strategy in a post-pandemic world of work

You wait ages for a vaccine to come along and then three come along at once. The latest news of scientific breakthroughs that have the potential to finally bring the global coronavirus trauma to a close in 2021 will not only provide a boost to economic confidence – it will also concentrate minds among company leaders on the future of the workplace.

Not business as usual

After nearly a year of lockdowns and layoffs, everyone agrees that there will be no return to business as usual with a return to the office. But what will the future landscape of work look like? And how should the corporate real-estate portfolio be remade? According to the Gensler Research Institute, which conducted a survey of more than 2,300 US workers this summer, there are four things to look out for.

First, a majority of office workers want to return to the office to collaborate with their teams, but not every day. That means a developing a hybrid model which is dynamic, offering one or more days working at home. Second, employees returning to the office want to see critical design changes to reduce density, noise and distraction. These changes are related to feeling safer: six out of ten workers would like to be an assigned desk even if it means they are expected to come into the office more often.

‘Workers want an assigned desk even if it means they come into the office more often…’

Third, there is growing demand for more private space – access to privacy has become much more important to employees than before the pandemic. And fourth, companies need to think hard about workplace amenities. During Covid-19, access to reliable technology help desks is the most valued amenity according to the Gensler survey. But as offices begin to reopen, we can expect to see a shift towards outdoor spaces, fitness areas, and health and preventive care services. Nearly 90 per cent of employees in the survey reported parking as the most desired amenity – a reflection of continuing fears over using public transport but also of a car-based culture in the US.

Network of spaces

As global organisations respond to data from Gensler Research Institute and others – and start to think more rationally about the future of work and workplace – there are three words that have risen up the ranks of corporate workplace lexicon: flexibility, choice and autonomy.

These words were central in WORKTECH’s most recent webinar entitled ‘Supporting the Global Shift to a Hybrid Workforce’ – Philip Ross, CEO of UnWork was joined by Justin Mardex of JP Morgan Chase, Tom Ash of Accruent and Matt Graham of EY to discuss significant changes occurring currently within corporate real estate.

Matt Graham commented that EY is re-examining its office portfolio in an attempt to reduce its footprint by 15 to 20 per cent. This is a significant reduction and has forced the organisation to think innovatively about the spaces that are required by different types of employees.

EY has set out a framework for a network of spaces which acknowledges that home working is appropriate for some types of work, but there is also a requirement for a variety of different spaces such as coworking facilities, touch down spaces, highly specialised spaces and indeed, the central headquarters. Graham calls for spaces that are ‘more distinct and more flexible’.

‘Survey data gives us ammunition to fuel strategies as we go forward…’ – Matt Graham, EY 

The attraction to highly flexible spaces is not new. But corporates are now approaching their strategy for implementing new spaces from a more analytical perspective. Justin Mardex of JP Morgan Chase argued that we are moving towards a progressive new workplace where companies are not only starting to understand the differences between different workers, but they are taking the time to understand what features and tools are most important to them.

It is now widely agreed that collaboration tasks are at the heart of the return to office movement, but Mardex argued that collaboration means different things to different people. Therefore, how can flexible spaces mirror the agile nature of teams and collaboration? Mardex said that flex should not only permeate our real estate, but also strategy and policy.

Tom Ash of Accruent advocated that technology is a strong enabler of flexible space and is making the workplace more democratic as each employee has increased access to the spaces they need. Technology can be a powerful tool to connect employees in a hybrid environment. Not only can employees book spaces they need in advance, workplace apps can nudge certain teams and individuals working on similar projects together in adjacent spaces. Once the right people are in the right space, they have the autonomy and choice to create their own serendipity.

While organisations continue to collect data and make evidence-based decisions around the types of spaces they will require, the next challenge for the future is how to create spaces which are cohesive and branded to fulfil a sense of belonging for every employee. Can a sense of belonging extend from the central HQ all the way to the home work setting? Watch the full webinar below:

WORKTECH20 Global Edition: new sessions

New sessions have been announced for the WORKTECH20 Global Conference that will be held 2-3 December 2020. Luca Bussolino and Juan Carlos Romero of Carlo Ratti Associati will give a forward-thinking presentation on the profound challenges facing cities to help shape the way we work, live and interact in our urban epicentres. The pair will discuss how cities can reinvent themselves for this radically Covid-altered world using technology as an enabler for change.

Jake Herway of Gallup will be joining WORKTECH Academy’s Jeremy Myerson in a discussion about high-performance cultures in the new world of work. This conversation will address the global productivity crisis. Herway will share insights from Gallup engagement data and explain how organisations can use data-driven insights to increase productivity at the lowest possible cost.

Other key themes will focus on smart building technologies and strategic interventions for returning to the office. Global organisations from Lego to Scotiabank will share insights into how large corporates are responding to the pandemic and how they are using digital tools to enable change management in their workplaces. Find out more here

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platform. This edition is posted 25 November 2020.
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