September 28, 2021
The rapid changes to our working lives caused by the global pandemic have prompted a great deal of debate about the future of work, the workplace and corporate real estate generally. At the highest levels of management within many organisations, leaders are now reflecting on their experiences and asking searching questions about their ways of working.
As businesses now plan for a world beyond the pandemic, an opportunity has been created to reconfigure the ways in which they structure their operations. How this will work in practice, and how it will be applied to different geographies and sectors is yet to be defined.
But there are four fundamental questions that leaders should think about when developing a work strategy for the future.
The Workforce: Is your model of work fit for purpose?
Prior to the pandemic, the notion of work for many was inextricably linked to the office. The experience of the last 18 months has brought this thinking into question. Our own data points to changing workforce preferences. Flexibility is becoming more and more attractive with 63 percent of the workforce wanting to keep the possibility to alternate between different places of work in the future. Only 8 percent said that they wanted to work entirely from home and over half of workers (61 percent) reported missing ‘real’ human interactions the most while working remotely.
The sweet spot for feeling engaged, empowered and fulfilled – at least for most surveyed office workers – is working from the office at a minimum of three days per week. What is becoming clear is that the office remains an irreplaceable tool for providing employees with a social purpose. And it will remain at the centre of the work ecosystem.
This shift to elastic work models changes more than the form and function of offices; it also changes how employee experiences work. Businesses will need to navigate this change and transform the way they foster culture, collaboration, and innovation – no matter where work takes place.
Employees are also rethinking their life priorities. Our data shows that work-life balance is now the number one workforce priority – even ahead of securing a comfortable salary. With the pandemic magnifying the lens on health, employees will expect – if not demand – that companies will provide for both their physical health and safety, and mental well-being. 73 percent of workers want to work from places that offer a destination for human connection, coupled with a safe, healthy lifestyle.
The Workplace: How can you shape your future workplace?
It’s a critical phase for leaders to increase their focus on how workplace design can help employees feel energized, connected, and engaged. COVID-19 has spotlighted the need for spaces that are healthier, better designed and more inclusive, and companies are increasingly acknowledging the benefits—such as greater mental wellbeing, increased productivity, and cost savings—that come from healthier urban environments and workplaces. JLL’s findings reveal that workers are asking for workplaces that address mental, social, and physical wellbeing.
Outstanding office environments will remain a critical way to reinforce culture, drive collaboration and innovation, enable professional growth and support employee health and wellbeing. For office experts, understanding the specific needs and motivations of building users and delivering an experience that makes employees feel like the office is worth the commute, will be key.
Technology will become pivotal to overall workplace strategy and management will need to consider investing in new forms of collaboration tech, smart sensors, and mobile apps to maximise productivity in flexible spaces. Technologies that support improved connectivity, such as 5G and IoT, and collaboration between office and remote employees, such as videoconferencing tools and even augmented reality, are among the solutions that will power the future-focused workplace. And experience must be frictionless.
Sustainability: What role is sustainability playing in your real estate decisions now?
Real estate is a key contributor to the carbon emissions fuelling climate change. Around 40% of all total carbon emission around the globe comes from building operations or embodied carbon. As we work to recover from the pandemic, rebuild and grow, it’s important to seize the moment by directing our focus and resources on sustainability. Leading businesses are making bold commitments at a fast pace to protect and support the planet for the future, while achieving their current business goals at the same time.
The pandemic has also placed renewed focus on healthy buildings for companies and employees, with corporate decisions about where to lease space leaning toward buildings that have such credentials. Buildings with clean air, plenty of natural sunlight, and other tenets of good health have become increasingly important for companies bidding to pull people back into the office. A healthy building means a competitive building for companies looking to attract talented employees.
Flexibility: What does a more agile workforce mean for your real estate portfolio?
Companies have a lot to consider when assessing if their real estate portfolio is suitable for their changing needs. There’s a clear role for flex space as part of a wider, hybrid portfolio which blends core space for collaboration and interaction with more flexible space for an increasingly agile workforce and peaks in demand.
Greater flexibility around the locations where people work means that the notion of a corporate real estate portfolio will become more diverse and complex. There’s no single model for what hybrid work looks like. How the model is operationalised will vary between companies, sector, and countries, and according to a host of other variables.
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to what the future of work will look like, what is clear is that your physical space is an investment in your brand, talent and business and offices will be more important now than ever before as the centre of the work ecosystem.
Image: JLL Manchester offices designed by Tétris Design x Build. Photography by Spencer McPherson at Still Moving Media