How might Covid-19 impact flexible working strategies?


In March 2020, CBRE released a forward-looking research report exploring ten ways in which we’ll experience real estate differently in 2030. The research highlights the profound impact of a wide range of changes - social, cultural, demographic, economic and technological – and the need for buildings to respond quickly and flexibly to the changing needs of those who occupy them.

Among other things the research predicted that “the end of fixed workplace attendance will unlock productivity growth and personal creativity” and that “nearly all employees will be mobile and require a network of locations to make them as productive and engaged as possible.”

Almost instantly following that, we were faced with massive levels of mandated government protocols that required companies to close offices and enforced remote working worldwide to comply with guidance on social distancing. Has this enormous experiment in remote working changed the game? More importantly, what future opportunities does this present to organisations and their employees in the longer term?

In the short-term this is clearly causing significant economic damage.  While the longer term global economic impacts are far harder to predict, it is clear that the unprecedented stay-at-home orders are severely testing nearly all industries and real estate sectors worldwide. 
how-might-covid-19-impact-flexible-working-1-1198x585We are facing a critical moment in our history that has the potential to re-shape our work practices, interaction preferences and attitudes toward technology for decades to come. Over the last weeks we have the seen the mass adoption of remote working as organisations have been forced to take their workforces virtual. That said, the current reality of remote working for many employees is far from ideal with many people juggling family and work commitments under one roof. The questions for organisations once social distancing restrictions are lifted are: what have we learned? And what will we now do differently?

The need for teams to spend time together will always be a crucial component of work. However, we will find that for some teams, their dependency on the office will be reduced, and some employees will want to continue working regularly from home. This will cause us to be more deliberate about why and when we go to the office. Regardless, companies will still need to make their offices a preferred destination and emphasis on employee experience will be amplified. The new patterns around office occupation will likely mean that organisations re-think their space needs, consider alternative work styles leveraging effective online collaboration practices, help to accelerate work cycles and make workers more productive. 
how-might-covid-19-impact-flexible-working-2-1200x800Organisations will test the balance between working from the office and other remote working locations, thus rethinking the role the office plays in enabling work.

This will be driven by a convergence of trends: changing attitudes to location independent working combined with pressure on organisations to reduce their operating costs. A recent study by Gartner underlines this, indicating that 75% of CFOs they have spoken with are considering a mild to significant increase in remote working in the future.

Organisations will approach remote working sensitively as it will be a delicate topic for managers and employees alike. Success will rest on thorough due-diligence; clear, honest and consistent messaging, and a programme of support addressing personal health and wellbeing, the financial cost, ways of working, technology and culture.

The focus will be on setting up the right technology, culture, and expectations, to make the office to home experience seamless and ensure employees can maintain productivity and engagement no matter where they are.

Organisations would be wise to not view workplaces in a binary capacity—home or office - as we see there being a much wider range of possibilities and combinations. As highlighted in CBRE’s report on The Age of Responsive Real Estate, they should look to create a ‘mixed-reality’ providing employees with a portfolio of technology-enabled solutions and locations to work where and how they choose. Our future workspaces will be more dynamic   than ever.
CBRE is working in partnership with our clients to address the challenges we have discussed here. We are developing a series of resources, products and services that will help our clients through what we see as the main challenges at this time:

  • Helping employees maintain personal productivity whilst working remotely
  • Preparing for the return to the office
  • Assessing the opportunity for increased remote working and the impact on your Real Estate portfolio
  • Building organisational resilience for the future

CBRE has created a briefing – ‘Reopening the World’s Workplaces’ – for occupiers of space and landlords who manage their buildings. Read more here.