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August 17, 2022
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CBRE: We are in the most complex change management process of our times

It’s not about transforming the offices themselves, but the transformation of the work model.

How prepared are we, what can and should be done?

 

CBRE, the world leader in commercial real estate services, has recently conducted two large-scale surveys to map current attitudes and expectations on the part of both companies and employees, aimed to observe the way both parties are dealing with the home versus office-based work paradigm, after 18 months of pandemic reality. Their results are in line with the overall results that countless other industry surveys report, showing the emerging powerful trend of a hybrid model, which effectively combines office with remote work. But what solutions do companies have at hand to manage this new reality?

The last year and a half-made history as one of the most game changing interference in the habits and cultures of organisations worldwide and has significantly affected the labour market as a whole. In such short amount of time, we frequented less our offices, created new digital habits, accommodated with the benefits of a flexible way of working, and returned partially in our workplaces just in time to face again the threat of temporarily closing the offices again.

According to a recent CBRE[1] survey of 130 companies operating in the EMEA region (that includes Europe, Romania also, the Middle East and Africa), about 65% of companies currently have all their branches in operation, but more than half still control the number of employees present in offices

 Just before the 4th wave of COVID emerged in Romania, the gradual return of employees back to the offices started both locally and globally, and in most of the cases, the office work has already transformed. So, what does the new hybrid model bring? And what do companies and employees have to prepare for?

The differences are evident according to the activity field and the size of the companies. The results of the survey show that around 60% of small companies with up to 100 employees already allow access to the workplace for all their employees, compared to 24% of medium-sized companies (up to 10,000 employees) and 11% of large companies (over 10,000 people). Given the favourable development of the epidemiological situation, more than half of the surveyed companies (57%) expect employees to return to the workplace by the end of this year. In contrast, about a fifth of the companies do not have yet a fixed deadline for reopening offices, and only about 15% of respondents report a stable return to normal.

We are all thinking of the future use of offices, as almost one third of respondents anticipate the need to increase office capacity, of which 9% by more than a third, and 28% of companies expect that the size of their leased space will not change significantly in the future. On the other hand, four out of ten companies are considering reducing office space“, comments Tudor Ionescu, Head of CBRE’s Romania Advisory & Transaction | Office, adding: “We expect offices to be more user-oriented really soon. Flexibility, quality of the environment and the use of modern technologies will play a key role – whether it is video conferencing equipment, air quality and occupancy sensors, intelligent building control systems, mobile applications or contactless technologies.

Companies focus now on areas that showed weakness during the pandemic. The teamwork leads now. Several key areas are emerging through the gradual returning to offices: in principle, it is about supporting teamwork (stated by 81% of respondents), a greater degree of employee involvement in the company (50%), building a corporate culture (39%) and retaining employees (36%). All these areas, among other things, require a reassessment of the existing ways of organizing work and leading people, as well as adjusting the appearance and functioning of real workplaces.

 

The experience of Romanian employees with working from home after a year with a pandemic: flexibility plays the key role. Office is missed but not the way employers expect

 

The pandemic has shown that many employees can be quite productive outside the walls of their office, but it also revealed a major transformation of the modern workforce, which puts a great value now on the newly acquired opportunities to freely balance professional and personal life.

The second edition of Work from Home Survey[2] conducted by CBRE in 8 Central and Southern European countries, including Romania, shows that almost half of the respondents (48%) would prefer a combination of working from home with working in the office. In Romania, 54% are preferring a flexible mix that does not overpass 75% of their work time in remote conditions. When working from home now, people often value more control over the organization of their own work and a better work-life balance, feel more responsible for the results achieved and that they are improving in catching up on specific tasks and in evaluating work priorities.

On the other hand – when working in an office, respondents most appreciate the social interaction they lack at home, as 37% observed a reduced time for collaboration. Actually, when comparing with CEE countries, the Romanians lack of time for collaboration is almost half more than the CEE average. The real problems that employees encountered during the pandemic include a lower level of communication with colleagues and clients, detachment from the team or less interaction with a superior. In many cases, simpler and faster information transfer, usually higher comfort (from the size of the office to an ergonomic chair or a computer with a large monitor), more intensive building of corporate culture and better access to technology also play in favour of working from the office.

Last but not least, we all know that at home, hardly anything heard from “colleagues” at the next table can inspire you to a great professional outcome, so no wonder that the top 3 reason to come to the office are regeneration & socializing, team meetings and building relations.

It is interesting to notice that the Romanians who have returned to office, for full week work schedule were with 60% more than the CEE average, before the 4th wave of COVID. Employees would appreciate if their employers will put more effort into building a healthy corporate culture, and into the creation of a safe and sustainable workplace that induces physical and mental well-being. 43% of the respondents said programs supporting mental health are important. These factors can be expected to be reflected, among other things, in the increased interest in the certification of the indoor environment“, stated Daniela Gavril (photo), Head of CBRE Romania Research.

Offices remain the main place for cultivating relationships, passing on values and experiences. While companies perceive employees’ growing interest in more freedom in organizing their own work, they still want their people to remain productive and interconnected. As seen in CBRE’s 2021 EMEA Occupiers Survey[3], there are three basic approaches of companies:

  • The primary workplace is the office (preferred by 15% of companies): Companies that choose this model consider the personal presence of employees in the office to be essential for their operation and culture. It allows for remote work rather exceptionally.
  • Combining office with remote work (favoured by 79% of companies): This approach is preferred by companies that expect a reasonable balance between teleworking and time spent in the office so that employees are sufficiently involved in team activities.
  • Predominant remote working (reported by 1% of companies): The approach of organizations that found the recent “experiment” so effective that they raised work from home to a new standard. They will still keep at least part of the office space for solving tasks requiring personal cooperation.

Hybrid work is nothing new, but a massive trend that would dictate the next normal. But keep in mind that hybrid work requires a hybrid workplace and will lead to more user-oriented offices. Some companies may choose to diversify their portfolios more, for example through greater use of coworking spaces (as an alternative way of testing occupancy or a more diverse work environment for employees), but in general only the way of using hybrid work will change the way offices are used.

Traditional workplaces have been static for too long, although our working days are full of dynamically changing activities. While our work has not been fundamentally changed, we feel that beyond a work resetting time, we live in a period of technological revolution. All of us became fluent in using new tools, accessing data from any place on any device, connecting and controlling all virtual platforms. All this in the shortest time ever. This is an ongoing revolution that impacts our office life. I can only recommend companies that decide to switch to a hybrid model of work to involve their employees in the decision and communicate consistently about the new principles in the workplace“, says Tudor Ionescu.

Among global multi-national companies with over 10,000 employees spread in different offices, 51% anticipate an activity based on working habits, 35% a targeted mobility, 8% a hot desking activity and only 3% are still choosing dedicated seats.

Companies may now be preparing to transition to a permanent hybrid work model, but many are asking what this workplace strategy means for the future of the office. Three main approaches to designing modern hybrid workplaces are on experts’ desks, as CBRE’s Hybrid Work Complete Guide[4] observes:

 

  • Activity-based workspace: 50% “me-time” and 25% “we-time”. Employees divide their work time between home and office, engaging in individual and team activities. They use different parts of the office according to their specific needs – whether they are places for concentrated work, or, for example, a rest area for informal meetings.
  • Team-based workplaces: 40% “me-time” and 40% “we-time”. Employees divide their time between home and office but come to the office primarily to work with their team on a specific task or project.
  • Workspace primarily for meetings (event-based work): 15% “me-time” and 55% “we-time”. Employees do most of their work at home and go to the office mainly for scheduled meetings.

Hybrid work involves more than giving employees the binary choice to work virtually or in the office. It requires understanding the unique needs and working styles of employees both as individuals and as teams.

 *

[1] CBRE 2021 EMEA Occupier Sentiment Survey of 130 companies in the EMEA region (includes Europe, Middle East and Africa), summer 2021. 5% of companies have not yet decided on a corporate strategy

[2] CBRE CEE Working from Home Survey 2021 –  1700 respondents from different sectors, industries and types of companies in Romania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and See Countries; July 2021.

[3] Percentage based on CBRE 2021 EMEA Occupier Sentiment Survey

[4] The Next Normal. A Complete Guide to How Hybrid Work is Impacting the Workplace and Transforming Commercial Real Estate, published by CBRE in 2021

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