What makes amenities newly important? The battle for talent is now more intense than it’s been in years. The package, schedule, and setting that worked last year may be out-of-favor today. To compete for talent, we have to work by the new rules.
“This crisis has accelerated strategies that were already in place around digital transformation and social responsibility,” said Bill Thomas, KPMG’s Global Chairman and CEO. He added that “it’s perhaps no surprise that CEOs are focused on the importance of talent to sustain and grow any future business.”
The New Market
For much of 2020 — and a lot of early 2021 — large numbers of office employees worked from home. While the work-from-home (WFH) movement has gotten a lot of attention, it’s not an especially new trend. A pre-pandemic 2019 study by the Labor Department found that “on days they worked, 24 percent of employed persons did some or all of their work at home.”
What happened during the pandemic period was not that a new form of work emerged, but that an existing trend was accelerated. WFH had already been a reality for millions of workers, now the size and scope of that option has expanded.
Here’s the oddity: The WFH movement is not one way. Not only have a lot of employees worked largely from home during the past 18 months, but many also want to go back. A Morning Consult study found that in May 63% of the workers interviewed wanted to go back to work as soon as it was safe and 76% preferred a job that offers a remote work option.
What we’re looking at might be called the great accommodation, the widespread use of hybrid work schedules for many top-line workers, typically two or three days at the office and several entirely remote weeks during the year.
“Giving workers flexibility has become table stakes in tech, where competition for talent is always fierce,” says Axios. It divides the new approach into days per week employees are expected in the office and weeks per year they can be fully remote. Amazon and Google, says Axios, will expect people in the office at least three days a week and allow four fully remote work weeks per year.
Most businesses — but not all — want at least some face time. WFH does not work for the bulk of US workers. According to McKinsey & Company, “just 22 percent of employees can work remotely between three and five days a week without affecting productivity.”
The Partnership for New York City surveyed major employers in the City and found that, “22% of employers will ultimately require employees to return to the office full-time, 66% will implement a hybrid model with some days in the office and some days working from home, and 9% will not require employees to return. The remainder (4%) said their policy will be role dependent.”
As Cushman & Wakefield reports, “countless CEOs have stated that even if workers are in the office less than they were pre-COVID-19, the benefits of working together face-to-face remain critical for innovation, work quality, productivity, relationship building, culture and professional development.”
Businesses will get several benefits from such arrangements.
- A wider range of job candidates, that 76% who prefer flexible work options.
- Better retention rates. “Companies that don’t want to spend a fortune replenishing their ranks in a hot labor market will need to make concessions,” explains The Atlantic, “They can start with two days a week.”
- Enhanced productivity. A 2020 study by Airtasker found that, “on average, remote employees worked 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year, than those who worked in an office. And on those workdays, they spent more time getting things done.”
The cubicle revolution
The death of the cubicle has been predicted for years and with good reason: for many workers they’re too confining, too cramped, too regimented, too loud, and insufficiently private. And that’s not all. It’s easier to find a Yeti than someone who likes small cubicles.
“Companies,” Ashley Stahl wrote on Forbes in 2016, “save money by stuffing employees into cubicles and open workspaces, so they can fit more people per square foot without the commitment of securing office space that has permanent walls. But if productivity suffers — which it clearly does — then companies are actually losing money because employees aren’t able to perform and produce as efficiently as they could without distractions.”
On Medium, Marcus Griswold explains that “let’s not forget the fact that even before Covid cubicles were spreading more germs than my kid’s fingers after a trip to Dave and Busters. But they also interrupt the much-needed deep thinking introverts like myself need to survive and thrive.”
The bottom line: Going back to the office does not mean a return to the same old setting. The great accommodation requires a fresh approach to both the modern work schedule and the post-pandemic workplace, one that will attract and keep valued workers.
The new amenities
In basic terms, there are several crucial amenities that will be required in the post-pandemic era.
Safety & Wellness. More than 140 million Americans are fully vaccinated, and weekly deaths are down 90% at this writing, according to The New York Times. While the vaccines have attained a remarkable level of acceptance, not everyone is vaccinated, and many may never be inoculated.
We’re not done with the pandemic and as a result safety protocols will continue until government officials advise otherwise. Commercial office re-openings will stress such things as revised floor plans, one-way entries and exits, staggered shifts, touchless technologies, magnums of hand sanitizer, social distancing, and plastic dividers for dealing with the public.
It’s in the organization’s interest to make the work site alluring. Wellness programs will be more comprehensive — think of better ventilation and temperature controls, on-site fitness centers, daycare opportunities, and easy outdoor access. Eating options at the property will stress healthy foods and better portions.
Planning. The shift to variable schedules will require careful planning for such things as shared office space and the use of conference facilities. How is productivity to be measured, and what steps will management take to oversee remote employees without excessive intrusion? A schedule coordinator or concierge will be engaged by many organizations.
Cybersecurity. Because of the threats represented by ransomware attacks and hacking, many organizations will provide specialized laptops for office and home use. New security protocols will become common.
Real estate as a service. The best office settings will increasingly emerge as places that value hospitality and involvement. The purpose is to make the worksite more alluring — and productive. People will come to work not only for a paycheck, but for the experience of such things as being with others and finding fulfillment through accomplishment. Think of the 63% who want to go back to the workplace.
Better commuting. The expected WFH expansion will likely result in making office centers more attractive. The reason is that reducing gridlock requires only a small change in commuting volume. As The New York Times explains, “roadway congestion is nonlinear. Each additional car doesn’t necessarily contribute equally to making traffic worse. Approaching a tipping point, a few more cars can strangle a highway. Similarly, removing a small share can unclog congestion.”
Space, the ultimate amenity. Given the reality of the WFH movement, it seems clear that employees will gain back some of the space — and maybe much of the space — they have lost in recent years.
“In 2010,” says Density, “companies averaged 225 square feet per employee. By 2017, that average was 151 sq ft. Numbers for collaborative spaces are even smaller, as little as 60 to 80 square feet per person.”
The subject of space-per-employee is not just a question of square footage or dollars, it relates to other matters as well. There is, after all, a natural desire for personal space. More space can be seen as evidence of status. Space location can also be a marker — anyone for a corner office?
In the post-pandemic era, there are other space considerations as well. Social distancing has become an entrenched value, so what better way to achieve it than with more distance between employees? Also, there’s the ever-present issue of employee acquisition and retention. Can you really get the best people without the best facilities? Can you keep them?
We don’t know what the future will bring, but as things are now shaping up, look for employee-centric office designs, features, and policies to dominate commercial real estate going forward. The 2022 office will be vastly different from the 2019 model, with more attractions for workers, a larger role for hybrid work schedules, and an added emphasis on health and safety. Work settings with allure are in, cramped cubicles are out.
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