3 minute read time
July 22, 2020

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The future of the workplace is being questioned and a clearer picture of how companies are thinking about their office portfolios is starting to emerge.

The great “work-from-home experiment” has been considered largely a success, with certain tech companies even going so far as to announce plans for permanent remote work.

But for many companies, the importance of the physical office has never been clearer. From employee recruitment and retention, training and culture to ad hoc collaboration, there are some office benefits that just can’t be replicated at home.

CBRE has surveyed hundreds of companies and office workers to take the pulse of what employees want, and how employers plan to respond. Let’s take a closer look.

Remote Work is Here to Stay - But So is the Physical Office

The Benefits of the Office

“[As we work remotely during COVID-19] we have the added benefit of knowing virtually everyone we’re working with,” said Mary Ann Tighe, CBRE’s CEO of the New York Tri-State Region, in a recent video blog. “We are running on the fumes of the social capital we’ve built up over the years.”

Tighe is bringing up one of several concerns that come with embracing remote work in the long-term. And she has others: How do you transmit company culture remotely? How does ad hoc collaboration work in a remote environment? Can sales activity be maintained? How do you manage a hybrid team?

While employees appreciate some aspects of remote work, many are missing the benefits of the physical workplace.

In a survey of 1,000 U.S. office workers conducted by The Harris Poll and sponsored by Hana, CBRE’s flexible space solutions platform, up to 38.0% of respondents reported missing random interactions with colleagues, while 33.0% missed in-person meetings and 32.0% missed in-person collaboration.

The Need for Flexibility

The want of a physical workplace is paired with appreciation for remote work at least some of the time. In the same survey, 62.0% of respondents reported appreciating saving money by working from home, while 58.0% liked not having to commute.

Perhaps most tellingly, before COVID-19, only 37.0% of employees reported wanting flexible work benefits. That number has now risen to 56.0%. Employees are also concerned about losing the flexibility they’ve come to enjoy. Up to 35.0% of respondents said it was a major concern, just slightly lower than office cleanliness (39.0%).

What Could Returning to Work During COVID-19 Look Like?

The Future of the Workplace

So how are companies responding to these sentiments?

To start, expect more flexible work. In CBRE’s recent 2020 Global Occupier Sentiment Survey, 70.0% of respondents said that some portion of their workforce will be allowed to work remotely full-time, while 61.0% indicated that all employees would be allowed to work remotely some of the time.

Still, the physical office will remain an important part of how we work. Up to 41.0% of respondents said the importance of the physical office will decrease only slightly, while 38.0% said it will remain as, if not more, important.

This suggests that a hybrid model will emerge, allowing employees to choose where they work and when. While 25.0% of companies said they would offer employees full-time remote work, 61.0% said they will offer a hybrid arrangement.

As far as Tighe is concerned, these numbers are a nod in the right direction. She believes that in order to maintain a driven, connected workforce, the physical office will remain essential to any hybrid solution.

“To every CEO who celebrates the so-called success of the work from home experiment, please remember this: the fundamentals still apply,” said Tighe. “Employees are human. Put them in a situation where they feel diminished, disconnected or distracted and nothing good will come of it.”

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