Will the end of summer speed up the return to office?

Our latest WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at a mood swing by business leaders towards getting more people back to the office, Under Armour’s sporty new HQ and our upcoming Singapore conference

The first week of September is traditionally ‘back to school’ – the wheels of commerce start turning again after the summer vacation in North America and Europe as everyone focuses on the autumn tasks ahead. But will this mean that the return to the office gathers pace too?

That was the question posed this week by The Financial Times, which reported on those large, famous organisations (Tesla, Apple, Goldman Sachs etc) that are currently trying to roll back the tide and reverse the shift to remote working after an extended period of resistance by employees reluctant to go back to an office on any regular or permanent basis.

‘Business leaders are suffering from do-gooder fatigue and want to get back to business…’

Will we see normal patterns of commuting finally reassert themselves? The FT quoted an executive head-hunter who suggested that business leaders are suffering from ‘do-gooder fatigue’ – they’ve had enough of concentrating on employee wellbeing through the pandemic and now want to ‘get back to business’.

The trouble with this no-nonsense approach is that there is a fresh spanner in the works – the cost-of-living crisis – with surging inflation making a trip to the office an expensive business when coffee, lunch, travel and childcare are factored in. On the other hand, can employees afford to heat their own homes all day? Would it not be cheaper to let the company keep the lights on?

The debate about the return to office is set to run and run. Some large firms are savvy enough to offer commuting subsidies or shuttle services to bring their people back. Others are recognising the reality that hybrid is here to stay and that large, predictable office populations are thing of the past – even if the first signs of autumn typically give workers a special spring in their step.

Under Armour designs unveiled

While the jury may be out on the return to the office, that hasn’t stopped some big-name companies  pressing ahead with building high-profile corporate headquarters in the US. One of the most eagerly anticipated schemes is sportwear brand Under Armour’s new operations centre at Port Covington, Baltimore.

Dubbed Team Building 2 and set for completion in 2025, this 50-acre site will anchor an entire innovation district for the city, creating a hybrid-suitable workspace, flagship retail experience and world class sports facilities all in one space.

Designs by Gensler have just been released, showing an expansive scheme with track and field facility, multi-sport playing field and a basketball court providing a testing area for Under Armour’s product development and marketing teams. Facilities will also be utilised by Under Armour sponsored athletes and made available to the Baltimore public through a series of special agreements for shared use.

‘The new build takes the ESG agenda to its heart with plans to drastically reduce the carbon footprint…’

The new build takes the ESG agenda to its heart with plans to drastically reduce the carbon footprint and divert to renewable energy sources. Geothermal heating, photovoltaic technology and rainwater capture as well as smart-monitoring technology will help the company to reach net-zero goals for the building. Designed to LEED-Platinum and WELL Building standards, it aims to be a benchmark for next-generation office spaces – swerving all arguments about whether or not employees will want to spend more time there.

Singapore’s holistic view

If the end of summer calls for a mass return to office, the workplace will have to make significant adjustments from a technology, design and people perspective. However, these cross-disciplinary discussions do not often happen organically. The WORKTECH22 Singapore conference line-up includes a carefully curated panel of experts from technology leaders to the head of workplace experience at Standard Chartered Bank to facilitate a transparent conversation around how companies can approach workplace transformation from a holistic perspective.

The event, which takes place on Thursday 15 September at Cisco Systems in Singapore, will host 20 expert speakers and provide networking opportunities to benchmark with peers. Find out more about WORKTECH22 Singapore 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 in-person, virtual and hybrid platforms. This edition is posted 7 September 2022.
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