Return To The Office – What Business Owners Are Doing

We’ve heard the landlords and agents banging the drum about how the office is still very much alive. Then we’ve heard the remote work advocates profess that the office is a relic of the past.

But what are business owners actually doing when it comes to retaining or letting go of their office space, and what are the challenges ahead?

The Categories

Based on enquiries and sign-ups we have noticed three district categories of Post Covid office users.

The “Downsizer”

The most common category, the Downsizer is reacting proactively to Covid-19 by reducing office space requirements while maintaining staff numbers. This is achieved by the adaptation of a home & office hybrid model. The downsizer typically employs between 20 and 100 staff on a full time basis and they are reducing their office space requirement by up to 40%. Usually transitioning from a traditional lease of say 5 or 10 years. The adjustment will coincide with a lease event such as an option to terminate or a landlord negotiation.

The change is facilitated by a rota system where for example 60% of staff are onsite at any one time with the balance of employees working from home.  The rota is managed by HR and and the coveted Monday and Friday slots are usually earned as opposed to allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

The “Hub & Spoke”

This is the most commonly referenced post covid work model mentioned in the media. It is adopted by larger companies who are aware of both staff expectations and the mutual benefits of implementing some elemtets of remote work.  They typically have a city centre location which acts as the Hub or central point for critical staff and client meetings as well as a marketing tool for prospective clients and customers. The Hub will also facilitate team meetings and collaboration events among employees.

The Spoke is a mix of “work from home” and “work near home” the latter made possible by the part time use of coworking spaces and flexible workspace providers. Staff might receive an allowance which they can use against their preferred coworking space or the employer may enter into an agreement with a coworking or flex office provider to facilitate this model for their teams. This facilitates the employee who wants / needs a professional work environment away from home along with the amenities that come with that. Benefits of work near home include a reduced commute time, feeling of autonomy for the employee and real property cost savings.

“Full” or “Quasi Full” Remote

This model is best suited to organisations that are very comfortable with remote working technology and can perform effectively without the need for face-to-face contact.  In this structure there will be no central hub or head office. Instead workers will work exclusively from home or near home in a coworking or flex office location and communicate with other team members online and via video calls.

However, such organisations understand the value of face-to-face interactions and may implement bi- annual or annual meet ups by way of an employee summit or event or a simple get together.

Anecdotally we’ve seen that it’s difficult to transition from a traditional office based organisation to a full or quasi remote company. The most successful at this model are businesses that started out as full remote and where all hires were on this basis from the very beginning.

The Challenges

The implementation of remote working is challenging. Here’s why:

The Mature Generation

We’ve found the businesses who are most resistant to remote working policies typically contain an older profile of senior management. This is understandable as when seasoned CEO’s have been running successful businesses the same way for the last 30 years, it can be difficult to see the benefits of such a dramatic adjustment.  The caveat of course is that such businesses will need to adapt or risk loosing staff who will expect any professional organisation post Covid-19 to offer meaningful remote working options.

“Mondays & Fridays At Home Please”

“Mondays and Fridays” Please

We predict that this will be a big problem in the months ahead. If employees are permitted a day or two days per week out of the office then you can be certain that Fridays and Mondays (in that order) are going to be first preference for most. This will create a void on those very days where the demands on staff are at their greatest. The beginning of the week is when plans are made and the end of the week is when plans are completed. In order to avoid tumbleweeds in the office on those coveted days, remote working policies need to manage employee expectations by for example granting the most popular WFH days on a rotation basis or alternatively by using a form of earned system.

Company Culture

There is an energy in being in the office that generates opportunity, employee satisfaction and productivity. For those who choose part or full remote, policy implementers must find ways to counteract the energy that is lost when staff are working in isolation. This will call for an adjustment in company culture to ensure equal treatment. It could be underpinned by a “remote first” policy backed by an investment in technology whereby the default position for staff engagements is remote in the fist instance. This could take the form of all meetings taking place online, regardless of whether staff are in or out of the office.

Promotion and Education of Staff

Junior staff and new hires learn best by example. They benefit from overhearing conversations, sitting in on client meetings and simply being around for ad hoc and unscheduled opportunities that only arise in the physical workplace. Systems and protocols for the training and continued development of new and existing staff should be implemented and time carved out for face-to-face learning. One-on-one online training time with senior staff members could be beneficial.

After The Return – The future of the office beyond Covid-19

We see advances in technology and changes in employee expectations as the two biggest lasting workplace adjustments arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. Businesses who ignore the wishes of staff will loose talent and ultimately loose competitiveness. The office will continue to have an important role in all forms of enterprise but that role will be tempered by productivity over presentism. Ultimately CEO’s and CFO’s will find satisfaction if their bottom line is not disadvantaged or better yet, if profits rise as a result of hybrid work. The challenge now is getting the balance right so that it works for all concerned.