On Sep 27 2022 / by Cassie Daley

This is how you can get staff back in the office again

When tech conglomerates and banking giants all, one by one, announced their permanent remote work options, it’s time to analyse the massive global switch to work-from-home culture and to understand what we can gain by going back into the office. Why? Well, because hybrid work models are likely to persist post-COVID. And according to McKinsey & Company, which analysed over 2,000 activities in over 800 occupations, this is especially true for the highly educated, well-paid portion of the workforce.

Digging a bit deeper, for most employees, the perks of working from home are split into five categories:

  • Health reasons: More time for sleep, working out, and cooking healthier meals; Less stress without a commute and an intense workplace environment; a smaller likelihood of contracting illnesses (like Covid-19).
  • Comfort reasons: More relaxed in personal space; Can enjoy the amenities of home.
  • Social reasons: More time spent with family and friends; Surrounded by family (or roommates) inside of the home.
  • Accessibility reasons: Beneficial for some disabled people who can't get to the office every day; Attainable for those without dependable transportation; Helpful for diverse different personal or familial situations, especially for those who are responsible for dependants.
  • Budgetary reasons: Money saved on gas, tolls, parking, and car maintenance (or public transportation tickets); Money saved on eating out or grabbing coffee on the go; Less money spent on a babysitter or nanny for children.

Last month, we attended a "Workplace Strategy" summit where we learned a lot about bringing employees back into the office. During this convention, we heard from leaders Maria-Danielle Penny, Mark Mitchell and Paul Edwards. They addressed questions like:

What do employees want from the workplace?

What are the unintended consequences of hybrid working?

What is the role of the building owner/landlord in creating these new spaces?

Before we get into all of it, though, if there's one thing you take away from this blog, it's that the benefits of remote work we mentioned above are all valid. But there are downsides as well. Likewise, working from the office doesn't have to mean squashing these perks entirely.

The hidden consequences of remote working

Spending more time at home and less time with others in the workplace, employees may start seeing some of these drawbacks that accompany remote working.

When it comes to the unforeseen consequences of working from home, it's worth mentioning:

  • A lack of social life within the workplace: It's difficult to make new friends and meet new people while staying home all the time. A disconnect between coworkers can evolve.  In fact, at the summit, Noreen Madden, Head of Group Property and Commercial at Qantas, explained, “People want to connect when they come into the office, not just [with] colleagues but their leader. They’re losing that connection, they’re coming back to the office to get that connection again. Being able to connect to leaders is important.”
  • Collaboration issues: It can be frustrating to get certain tasks done without physical interaction, especially for collaborative projects. Without being in the same space, colleagues have more room for miscommunication and mutual frustration.
  • Distractions, distractions, distractions: Everything that's going on inside the home can distract an employee from their work, making it difficult for them to focus and introducing a slowdown in productivity.
  • Technology and security concerns: Work should be done using the best possible tools for each task, often only available in an office setting. Plus, the use of VPNs and the constant trade-offs required for remote work may contribute to breaches in organisation security.

Ultimately, no system is perfect, and working from home is no exception

What do employees actually want from their workspaces?

How can we actually adapt workplaces to fit the wants and needs of employees? We can start by figuring out what those wants and needs are. And sometimes, it's not what you think.

With ongoing pandemic concerns, employees want to feel safe when returning to their workspaces. According to Gensler's Winter 2021 survey, indoor air filtration systems, access to more private spaces, and vaccination requirements are all popular features among workers. Operable windows and outdoor workspaces are also attractive.

Property managers should also consider the evolving necessity for:

  • Privacy within the workspace
  • Fresh air quality and natural lighting
  • Adherence to safety guidelines
  • Ability to personalise workspaces
  • Availability of social gathering spaces
  • Physical accessibility and convenience

Some add-ons that could contribute to employee satisfaction are:

  • Fitness centres/gyms
  • Standing/convertible desks
  • Accessibility to healthy food and drinks
  • Connections to nature and green spaces

While the workspaces for different types of organisations require their own unique setups, employees themselves often have similar wishes.

What's the role of the property manager when it comes to addressing these needs?

Following the work-from-home revolution, the only way to get employees back to the office long-term is to welcome them back with amenities that address their new expectations.

So, what, exactly, are the changes we have to make? According to studies conducted by the likes of Harvard Business Review and Gensler Research Institute, fundamental modifications could look like the following:

  • Spacial alterations
    • Embracing natural light by adding more windows or changing the existing ones; implementing new air filtration systems; Changing office space layouts to introduce more privacy; Creating gathering areas; Adhering better to safety guidelines.
  • Rule changes
    • Allowing for more personalisation of the workspace; Changing the building's hours of operation to provide more flexibility; Hiring a security team, or implementing a security system for the safety of tenants.
  • Cosmetic fixes
    • Adding indoor plants and transforming outdoor landscaping for a better connection to nature and better access to outdoor workspaces; Overhauling old furniture and appliances; Hiring a regular cleaning service.
  • Accessibility adjustments
    • Partnering with local food services to make healthy food and drinks easily attainable; Creating a smarter system for parking and welcoming EV vehicles; Regularly testing and repairing elevators, safety equipment, and alarms.
  • Extras and add-ons
    • Creating a fitness centre or meditation area exclusively for tenants; Hosting occasional social events or functions.

All of these modifications are just examples of what can be done to transform a workspace. The sky is really the limit here.

From a wider lens, the fireside chat between Qantas, Ernst & Young, and Suncorp on “How to get people back into the office” revealed the importance of flexible lease terms for businesses to create more flexibility in their workspaces. For example, Suncorp’s Design and Business Integration Manager Maria Danielle Penny explained that with their organisation shifting to a hybrid work model, flexibility was negotiated into the company’s contract with Mirvac. On top of that, she also suggested a greater emphasis on events for landlords to drive tenant and staff engagement.

When it comes to the person who manages the property or building, they must make necessary changes while balancing costs. Some modifications are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement (testing and repairing alarms, buying a few indoor plants), while others require more time and resources (replacing air filtration systems, changing entire office layouts, overhauling furniture and appliances, etc.).

Sometimes, making a few changes can go a long way. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What benefits have people enjoyed while working remotely that I can make possible on this property?
  • Which organisations use this property, and how can I best cater to their specific requirements?
  • What would I want to change if I were an employee in this workspace?
  • What is my responsibility for amenities, and what is the tenant's responsibility to change? What are my tenants' expectations of me?
  • What is my budget when making changes? What are the most cost-effective changes I can make within that budget?

What are some good resources for making workspace adjustments?

Of course, starting from scratch and getting people back into the office can sound daunting! We want to point you toward some services to help you get started.

Regarding any changes in parking services and vehicle accessibility, we recommend checking out our own services here at Parkable. Parkable is a super intuitive way to manage staff and tenant parking. Our flexible, user-friendly platform and app enable property owners and managers to create a system that makes driving into the office a more accessible, easy process for everyone involved.

We also recommend looking into Axiom, a design firm specialising in workplace transformation. They've been in the biz for 25 years and specialise in creating thriving, strategic workspaces through their integrated methodology. And you may also want to explore the services of XY Sense, a workplace sensor and analytics platform. Using AI, XY Sense helps workplace teams to better understand and optimise office space.

Putting in the work to "earn the commute"

Now that employees have had this new work-from-home experience, the daily commute may seem less worthwhile than it used to. And so, the workspace itself must offer a more satisfactory experience than working remotely.

The first thing a commuter experiences upon ending their drive to their workplace is the parking situation. Any workplace can begin "earning” that commute right there in the parking lot with Parkable. It improves the employee experience by providing them with bookable parking, seamless access, cashless payment, and automated resolution. And it's super easy to learn how to use the platform, so the entire process is seamless.

"Never before has the office parking conundrum been so difficult; sparked by employees globally returning to offices in a very different manner to pre-Covid ways of working," explains CEO of Parkable Toby Littin. "Companies are facing very real challenges in ensuring their office parking is as flexible as their hybrid working policies. Too often, parking sits empty, and can't be easily shared between those coming into the office."

Welcoming employees back into the workspace means recognising that they are individuals who have wants and needs that have evolved with time that must be addressed. Changing the spaces in which they work to be more hospitable will sweep away the dread of coming in to work. And as soon as these employees pull onto their workspace property, they can experience that hospitality with Parkable.

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