Can the making of purposeful space speed up the return to office?
This WORKTECH Academy briefing looks at a new report which suggests that understanding how and why employees utilise different workspaces could be the key to encouraging reluctant staff to come back
With return-to-office rates persistently sluggish and many workplaces around the world stuck at low occupation levels, employers are scratching their heads to find an effective strategy.
So, could the secret to bringing the workforce back in numbers be to create a purposeful space that really responds to people’s needs?
When property consultancy Remit reported that September had brought with it the highest levels of office occupancy in the UK since the pandemic, the champagne corks were hardly popping in real-estate circles. National occupancy is still sitting at only 31 per cent overall, meaning that the majority of staff are still working from home.
Mondays and Fridays predictably had the lowest levels of occupancy in the office, while some areas of London, particularly those associated with finance, reported higher levels of occupancy with their rates peaking at around 50 per cent.
This suggests that hybrid working is very much the current norm, so what can employees offer staff that actually encourages people to return now that the free coffees and pizzas have dried up?
A new report by Leesman entitled ‘Purposeful presence: how and why employees return’ looks at what reasons employees have to return to the office and encourages an activity-based model whereby staff can choose where they work based on their tasks for that day.
‘57 per cent of people who described themselves as completely office-based also identified themselves as being free to choose where they could work …’
Autonomy and choice may appear to be the enemies of the office, but 57 per cent of people who described themselves as completely office-based also identified themselves as being free to choose where they could work. This suggests that flexibility and autonomy, far from being the creators of empty offices, can sit well alongside an aim to have more employees back in the office space.
So, if people who can work from home choose to come into the office, the question is what draws those people in?
Leesman’s report asked respondents to identify which of their working activities is best done at home and which are best done in the office. They found that hosting visitors, clients or customers, having informal social interaction and learning from others were the activities most associated with the office.
Additionally, other factors were also identified as uses of the office, including the use of technical/specialist equipment, collaborating on creative work, conducting individual focused work away from your desk, having larger group meetings and relaxing/taking a break.
People are able to tailor their home-working environments according to their needs, adding or removing furniture, equipment and décor to their taste. Tempting them away from these spaces into an office not built for their specific needs is therefore difficult as workers are acutely aware of how well their home office suits them.
To overcome this, offices need to respond to needs that the home office cannot deliver, providing solutions to problems faced by their workforce and responding consciously to demand.
‘offices need to respond to needs that the home office cannot deliver, providing solutions to problems faced by their workforce and responding consciously to demand…’
Offices that are the most prepared for hybrid appear to be associated with a wider range of activities, with space provided to collaborate, relax, access equipment and conduct focused work away from the stresses of family and housemates.
By offering choice but also providing the kinds of space that workers need to better conduct aspects of their work, the foundations could be laid for a successful office return, argues the report.
Workers who choose to return to the office will do so because they have a reason – making purpose the key driver of the office return. Employers who embrace this will find their adaptation to the ‘new normal’ of office working far simpler and will waste less money on ineffective incentives. Access Leesman’s ‘Purposeful presence’ report here.