Skip to main content Skip to footer

The Return to Office Ins & Outs | GlobeSt

Colliers' experts recently spoke with on the right return to office approach

COVID-19 led to many restrictions, but in one major way it helped introduce more options: office workers now know they can work from anywhere. That new standard of workforce flexibility will remain, putting the onus on employers in a tight labor market to get their return to the office (RTO) strategy right. reached out to Colliers workforce experts Bret SwangoKeith Perske and Michelle Cleverdon to discuss the benefits and potential dangers in the new labor dynamics, how flexible work models and spaces will be integrated, and what’s next for office occupancy.

“This is the greatest supply-side risk facing knowledge worker-centric organizations in our lifetime,” said Swango, head of workforce analytics. “If an employer chooses to move forward with a strategy that withdraws the autonomy, flexibility and choice afforded over the last year, employees will look elsewhere for a workplace that better aligns with their needs.”

A confluence of factors has created the “perfect storm” that favors highly skilled workers and puts more pressure on employers planning RTO. Job openings are at all-time highs, the hyper-efficient flow of information provides transparency into employer policies and alternative opportunities, a disproportionately tech savvy labor pool is skilled at accessing such intelligence, and the advent of remote work has altered the competitive environment, shifting employment opportunities from local to global.

In response to these dynamics, many employers will favor the hybrid model, a blend of in-office and out-of-the-office work. The locational and time flexibility offered by hybrid solutions can be an attractor for diverse talent, particularly working parents.

“The question is how do you rationally and fairly decide who can do work virtually, how often and how are they supported at each location?” said Perske, head of Colliers’ Americas workplace advisory. “Those decisions need to be based on facts about function, manager’s ability and employees’ desire. Leaving one of those elements out of the decision process can lead to bad outcomes.”

A flex workplace or third option to an RTO strategy offers several advantages, including reduced commute times and increased access to work resources. Many companies are leveraging flex in a hub and spoke model to provide work locations in closer proximity to where employees live.

“There is also the idea of invigorating work by enabling choice with the ability to change up the work environment and the innovation factor behind bringing together different perspectives in a third environment, whether with colleagues or external networks,” said Cleverdon, vice president of workplace innovation. “Flex offers this by design and as a shared service.”

Flexibility is about performing different activities or interactions in different locations, but that balance is not a one size fits all thing. Cleverdon recommends that organizations should start with data, leveraging both quantitative and qualitative analysis to help capture specific metrics critical to business performance and the employee voice to help tailor the approach for different functions. Then it’s about being communicative, partnering across functions, and applying an iterative and continuous improvement mindset.

A well-structured, data-driven RTO method will also help against the unknowns that remain, such as the COVID-19 Delta variant. Two organizations Colliers is working with have already had to adjust their RTO plan and timing.

“This is all just one large cost-benefit analysis and right now the costs or risks far outweigh the benefits or rewards,” Swango said. “Sure, many managers would like to be back in person with their teams, but taking a misstep with RTO can be costly for talent retention and acquisition.”

View on GlobeSt

Related Experts

Bret Swango

Senior Vice President, Workforce Analytics & Location Strategy

Chicago - Downtown

With a strong quantitative background, I excel at using data to solve complex business issues. I leverage this skillset in leading the Workforce Analytics consulting practice for the Americas. 

My team provides an integrated approach to people, place and process powered by agile technology and advanced analytics to equip organizations with workforce-related insights to make quantitatively justifiable location-related decisions in labor markets around the world.

Prior to leading the Workforce Analytics team, I was a director on a Chicago-based corporate solutions team where I led a team of developers in developing tools and financial models to help clients address their most complex business challenges. These ranged from fully integrated finacial statement and risk models to landlord vulnerability and business intelligence tools.

Before joinging Colliers in 2015, I spent nearly 4 years working in a variety of roles at Allstate Insurance Company. There I held a number of roles and developed a distinct ability to 1) understand the root cause of the business problem, 2) identify the data required to solve the business problem 3) leverage the technical capabilities of myself and others to analyze the data, synthesisize the finding and communicate with leadership to solve the business problem. 

While at Allstate, I spent time as the lead financial and operational consultant to the Allstate Contact Centers which employ more than 3,000 FTE. In this role I led a redesign of the staffing model to more efficiently match supply (labor hours) and demand (call volume) which drove a double-digit improvement in utilization and improved profitability.

In my time on the agency economics team, I developed a model that identified inefficiencies in the agency compensation system and designed solutions to redistribute capital, helping drive profitable growth for the organization. This project led to a role on a team of 5 charged with a  complete redesign of the company’s $3 billion sales compensation program.

View expert

Keith Perske

Senior Vice President, Workplace Advisory

New York

As Executive Managing Director of Workplace Innovation, Corporate Solutions | Americas, Keith leads Colliers’ expertise in this rapidly evolving field, helping our clients use the workplace as a competitive advantage to advance their business objectives through innovative and insightful workplace solutions.

Additionally, Keith brings more than 30 years of experience to Colliers International, including his previous role as Senior Director, Global Workplace Innovation at Johnson & Johnson. There he was responsible for program design and deployment of a set of new workplace principles for J&J’s global office portfolio of 60 million square feet and more than 900 locations.


View expert

Michelle Cleverdon

Vice President, Workplace Advisory

San Francisco

Michelle is a Vice President in the Workplace Advisory practice with a decade of experience in design and consulting expertise. Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, she leads the team’s business practice within the western region. 

With a passion for creating meaningful and valuable connections between people, technology and the work environment, Michelle helps create workplaces that help people and business thrive. She focuses on developing transformational spaces that boost employee engagement activity, as well as meet the client’s business goals and objectives.

Michelle believes a truly successful workplace is a combination of great design, vital amenities, and organizational engagement that craft the most meaningful employee experiences.

View expert