Remote Work Is Here to Stay, But Office Footprints Likely Won’t Shrink

Article originally posted on Globe St. on June 29, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic will set a “new normal” for the office workplace as companies adopt and integrate remote work practices deployed during the pandemic, according to a new report from Cushman & Wakefield. Consequently, it will morph from a single location to an “ecosystem of different locations and experiences.”

That said, the office isn’t going anywhere, according to the report, which is based on data from Cushman and Wakefield’s “Experience per SF” survey tool. It incorporates pre-pandemic responses with feedback from an additional 50,000 workers and employers worldwide during the current work-from-home environment. The global real estate services firm itself has about 53,000 employees in 400 offices and 60 countries.

The report forecast that office space size will generally remain unchanged, even though companies have been successful overall with workers performing their jobs remotely. Going forward, companies will allow employees more flexibility to work remotely, but any savings in square footage will be offset by the need for greater space for social distancing.

Social distancing measures could require companies to expand their office footprints by 15% to 20%, the report said, but it forecast no net change in footprint size if half of respondents indicating they would increase flexible work practices followed through.

But remote work is here to stay, the report found. Of respondents, 73% said companies should embrace flexible working policies, and companies recognize that some workers can successfully operate remotely at least part of the time.

According to the report, 75% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they were collaborating effectively with colleagues in the current environment–a 10% increase from the pre-COVID-19 period. Relatedly, employing collaborative technology tools is “no longer optional, but an imperative” for companies.

While team collaboration has held up overall and 90% of respondents said they felt their manager trusted them to carry out their job, employees reported that they are losing out on personal connection with colleagues.

Only a little more than half of respondents said they felt connected to their colleagues during the remote work period, the report said, and remote collaboration is task-oriented without the same opportunities for informal learning and mentoring.

The report found differences in the remote work experience by business function. Salespeople who were previously office-based were struggling the most, it said, because they are unable to “feed off face-to-face interaction.” Research and development teams also found the lack of face-to-face interaction impeded brainstorming and collaboration. By contrast, it said, operations and support personnel “appear to have little downside in their experience.”

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