Reimagining the office in the work from home era

Reimagining the office in the work from home era

Tue 23 Feb 2021

The working environment has always been an important factor for companies’ performance and their ability to attract talent. With the rise of remote work, this aspect has become critical: companies now have to ‘seduce’ staff to return to the office. Therefore, real estate services will play a crucial role in helping businesses upgrade working environments to encourage people back.

An increased need for social interaction

Few employees (and few businesses) currently envisage a future in which all work is done remotely. The need for social contact has proved to be very important since it contributes to staff morale and commitment, helps foster synergies and hence improves performance. After working from home for months on end, many staff are expressing a wish to be back in the office, a shared space that encourages social interactions, informal discussions and group reflections, all while promoting innovation and efficiency.

Therefore, the office is re-emerging as an essential place for getting work done; nonetheless, we can no longer ignore the staff’s changing needs and expectations, which the lockdown has only strengthened. More specifically, they are now expressing two main expectations: the improvement of social contact, and CSR[1], both of which should be reflected in the user experience.

People as a driver of value

In terms of facilities, there will be fewer individual workstations and more collective and multi-purpose workspaces, including meeting rooms, areas for co-creativity, places for informal discussions. Other questions concern the changing nature of service delivery in the office or even to the employee’s home. Here, the right balance needs to be found between technology and the human element, which should not be in conflict but should complement each other to enhance the user experience.

Technology will increasingly enable us to monitor and anticipate the occupation of premises and the various workspaces, but also to adapt the frequency of attendance, or the replacement of consumables. To work well the solutions adopted must be painless and transparent. But to optimise the user experience, it seems crucial to preserve the human element.

It will always be simpler and less stressful for an occupant to report a breakdown or annoyance to someone they know and who has helped them before, such as a floor caretaker, rather than scanning a QR code and working through a complicated drop-down list.

A turning point for office catering

Corporate catering is one of the most impacted services. There’s no denying that Covid times have exposed a mismatch between the traditional offering and the needs of increasingly nomadic staff. Specialist providers had already undertaken to expand their offering and their operating hours (takeaway meals, connected fridge services, grocery corners and so on). In future, these players will face yet greater challenges. They will only increase their capture rate by raising their service level (e.g. a balanced diet, organic and local production, a wide and varied choice). They will do so against the backdrop of economic issues caused by the inevitable income loss due to the rise of remote work, with little scope for manoeuvre in meal pricing. To meet remote workers’ needs, some providers already offer home delivery, but this does not work everywhere. The competition from delivery platforms is such that it is often preferable to create partnerships rather than doing it alone.

The crisis has only accelerated these trends, and the many solutions that already existed before 2020 are now in the process of strengthening and becoming more widely available. One example of this is the extension of hotel codes to offices, a dynamic observed in recent years that could well become the norm and help restore collective workspaces’ attractiveness. The challenge for office real estate players under instruction from their users is to provide an attractive working environment, “better than at home”,; and services definitely have a major part to play in this transformation. Something to be worked on…

This article first appeared in the IMMOWEEK in January 2021.

[1] Study “Stratégie immobilière post-covid : 15 responsables immobilier livrent leur vision” [Mazars, October 2020 – in French]