What’s on top of CEOs’ agenda today? Talent, technology, transformation and transparency over climate actions, and core to it all is the workplace today—and tomorrow.
Office assumes bigger significance as an enabler for a sustainable and digital future. The workplace is fundamental to winning the fierce war for top talent, while navigating one of today’s most pressing challenges, i.e., return-to-office.
In fact, attracting people to the office is turning out to be way more difficult than the tectonic shift towards remote work in 2020, as a dire consequence of COVID-19. People are challenging employers’ call back to work from office, with only one in ten agreeing with full-time in-person work and the majority choosing a mix of in-person and remote work, fuelling intense pay-hike pressures. Employees want more meaningful connections with their leaders, peers and purpose.
This is baffling businesses, as they fight inflation not seen in decades and surging interest rates, on top of skills' shortage and escalating geo-political and environmental concerns.
Many leaders today, as a result, may be drawn towards taking a wait-and-see approach, putting workplace strategy on the back burner — which is beyond doubt, not a good idea.
Keeping sights intact on the long game, it is vital for businesses to reassess the maturity of their workplace strategy, understand where they stand against a much-evolved competitive landscape and take strategic steps to optimise their real estate’s impact on the overall business.
It is time now to rebalance your real estate portfolio, revitalise your workplace strategy and reposition for a unique office experience to avoid undesirable pain points when clouds clear.
Offices must be repurposed to fit the new world of work. The challenge is identifying how much to re-size, down-size or up-size and find the right portfolio balance.
There aren’t any one-size-fits-all solutions, but the pledge to flex takes center stage with most employees holding the hybrid-work card close to their chest.
So, depending on business needs, you may - Flex and CoreTM, Hub and Spoke, create digital campuses, go for managed offices or even reverse flex (partner with a flexible workspace operator to repurpose unutilised space). Whatever the model, understanding the flexibility potential of each location is vital to build portfolio agility.
“Measuring flexibility potential is the first step towards identifying flex work opportunities across locations. It helps optimise costs and build in capabilities to tactically expand or shrink core assets to tide over uncertain times. The best way is to take a data driven approach — combine quantitative and qualitative data points to derive flexibility ranking of each location,” says Doug Henry, Managing Director, Occupier Services | Australia.
Rebalancing the portfolio also hinges on underlying details, like where employees want to work from, how many days a week and what’s important when in the office. Managing utilisation with headcount projections for the longer term is paramount. However, ground realities differ, and rampant underutilisation remains a key concern.
“We see persistent issues around slow mindset change and adaptability. While businesses agree with the urgency for hybrid and activity-based work models, traditional leadership teams are reluctant to give up corner offices. Hence, employees too are holding on to spaces. Lead with change management and granular analysis of the company's growth plans to optimise space utilisation. Right-size, redesign and recreate offices fit for the future,” says Shona Tay, Director, Workplace Advisory | Asia.
"Integrate data, technology and analytics to drive office portfolio performance. Analyse questions like how the data collected can lead to further savings in the property equation and how portfolio rightsizing can contribute towards the ESG goals. Businesses must use this time to get on top of their game."
Managing Director, Occupier Services | Australia
A well-planned and strategically-implemented portfolio optimisation based on cost, operating environment and risk considerations enable businesses to unlock cash for required investments and expansions, while maximising revenue, margin and efficiency.
Revitalise workplace strategy
Workplace strategies need a refresh beyond physical design, tech tools and infrastructure.
"Workplaces today must be aspirational, built around the company’s overarching vision, mission and purpose, invoking new and refreshed employee experience that drives better engagement. What the office must look like and how it can create more value, depends on the leadership style and culture, what employees aim to achieve when in the office, their well-being, along with the larger ESG goals."
Managing Director, Occupier Services | Asia
“Companies must invest time and money in understanding employees’ specific needs, their work habits, and preferences and how they spend the workday. Only then, office catering to the employees' true needs can be designed,” says Chloe Teo, Head of Enterprise Clients | Singapore.
After all, employees today are companies’ greatest assets and most important stakeholders—ahead of clients, and over three times more important than shareholders. Edelman’s 2021 report further reveals that nearly four out of five employees expect their employers to act on societal issues. This urgency makes ESG-led workplace strategies vital to building trust, creating competitive advantage, as well as delivering value driven engagements.
The focus today is on face-to-face collaborations that propel innovation, knowledge sharing, and ideas generation in a community set-up. Colliers' Head of Occupier Strategy for Asia, Amit Oberoi says, “Certain things foster best in an office environment; for instance, product innovations with different teams coming together holistically. Mentoring is particularly relevant to attract younger employees to the office. Also, while technical upskilling works in a remote set-up, social and specialist skills training is best done in a collaborative environment. These aspects in workplace strategies are essential for enhanced engagement and empowerment, effectively propelling return-to-office.”
What implications HR policies have on the workplace are equally important. New recruits, for instance, must be integrated with the work family in their initial days. Transparency is a must, more so for compensation decisions, such as linking pay and perks to physical presence in the office.
Reposition for unique experience
Experience has a bearing on all aspects of work, be it recruitment, retention, productivity, culture, motivation, collaboration or community. Workplace experience (WX) is about taking a human-led approach to setting the formula right between workforce and workplace — both physical and digital.
From quiet, to collaborative and social, WX must be created with a variety of spaces while making it easily reconfigurable. Key questions include: Are employees happy and able to accomplish both professional and personal work for which they come to the office? Is the intended collaboration in office value creating enough? Is the office culture having a positive impact? Is the tech platform creating convenience and boosting productivity?
The approach would be to strategically build WX around top pull-factors, such as convenience, fulfillment, well-being, purpose and design.
"Office starts when people leave their homes and until they are back. We often forget this, which partly explains the huge reluctance to go back to the office. Today, distributed teams are acceptable, but offices can’t be merged into one place; remote work is here to stay. The moot point is about making WX magnetic enough to pull people from the comforts of their homes."
Head of Occupier Strategy | Asia
From free meals, food vouchers, to hefty transports allowances and the biggest health subsidies ever—companies are leaving no stone unturned in luring employees to the office. Embedding climate actions within regular scope of office work is another route corporates are taking. In the coming years, tech that enables inclusivity and strengthens ESG credentials will come to the fore. For example, seat booking apps are transitioning to be more connected with building management systems, to reduce costs and carbon footprint.
Finally, it’s all about designing jobs with workplace as the heart — giving employees more choices, flexibility and fulfillment, and enabling them to stay pivoted to the company’s goals.
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