What companies are missing about hybrid work

A disconnect between employee expectations and corporate investment stem from lack of data, tech

February 28, 2023

While office occupancy numbers rise – recently hitting around 50% in the U.S., according to Kastle Systems – companies are still not getting hybrid work strategies correct.

For instance, one-size-fits-all approaches with sweeping mandates to be in office most days are causing uproar among employees, according to Forbes. This also isn’t necessarily what data suggests is best for productivity. 

Then there are the companies only focusing on investing in the central office, rather than other workplaces, like flexible spaces or the home. This has sent mixed messages about hybrid strategies, as well as technology and ergonomic challenges for workers, according to a study by Logitech.

“It’s clear that hybrid is here to stay. Employees expect it, and employers are trying to respond to this,” says Hannah Dwyer, JLL’s EMEA head of Work Dynamics research and strategy. “However, the reality is that corporates are still trying to figure out how to manage it.” 

Dwyer points out that there are many reasons behind the disconnect: Approaches are not people centric; ownership in hybrid strategies isn’t shared; and there isn’t enough invested in technology needed for a hybrid work environment.

“One of the biggest hurdles leadership faces is a discrepancy in how the physical office is designed and how employees now use it,” she says.

For example, employees might say that they only want to come to the office as a place to collaborate with peers. However, data shows that most people use the office as a place to focus on work, Dwyer says.

“We are operating in a world of significant change from an office real estate perspective. But it’s also a world where everyone is under pressure to cut costs, and costs are rising,” Dwyer says. “So, when it comes to hybrid, there is a balance between what companies are investing in and ensuring those investments have the maximum impact.

Investing in tech

During the pandemic, it became apparent that office workers could manage many of their tasks from virtually anywhere. The “hub-and-spoke model” evolved, with the office becoming a hub of collaboration, while the home and other third places became spokes. Companies planned to invest heavily in the “new office,” bringing in more conference rooms and technology to blend in-person and remote workers.

“While everyone is operating in a period of cost pressures, corporates are very much scrutinizing their real estate strategies,” Dwyer says. “We’re not expecting the huge levels of expansion activity we were used to in the past, but instead see companies looking at optimizing their existing space and how to make it fit for purpose.”

However, Dwyer says that there is still a level of catching up needed when it comes to technology advancements.

One main area that companies haven’t addressed yet is capturing the right metrics. JLL’s Technology and Innovation in the Hybrid Age report looks at 15 different types required for a fully functioning hybrid office. Researchers found that most companies had only implemented about four of them. 

JLL’s Future of Work survey also shares that of the companies surveyed, only 13% placed themselves in an advanced perspective when it came to their tech journey.

Future proof offices

When it comes to questions clients are asking, Dwyer says she is constantly hearing, “how do we respond to hybrid to make our buildings future-proof?”

Having a robust approach to metrics is imperative because Dwyer says partial and anecdotal data needs to be more accurate.

As companies accelerate their investment in technology to meet the challenges of a hybrid office, researchers say it is increasingly difficult to understand the landscape, which tools are aligned with your specific goals, and how best to integrate them into your operations.

Technology enables companies to capture new data types we were not even looking at five years ago. When companies looked at facilities management, they probably thought about cleaning, security, and services. Now, it’s about looking at the space. Is it efficient? What is energy use? What is the corporate real estate cost per person? Is the office inclusive? Is it diverse?

“A whole new level of metrics has emerged,” Dwyer says. “And that’s what should be driving clients’ decisions. It gives greater agility, transparency, and responsiveness.”

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