Beating the rush to workplace innovation: five issues to consider now

4 min read

In this series, Mace experts explore why a Corporate Real Estate (CRE) strategy is more crucial than ever if businesses want to succeed through the pandemic and beyond.

In the third part of this workplace series, workplace expert Shelley Frost, looks at what CRE leaders can do now to plan for the future workplace for their business, ensuring that the estate strategy marries with the business strategy and the way teams want to work.

We’re now well into Q1 of 2021; many countries are still enduring ongoing lockdowns with new variants dulling the optimism that the vaccine rollout promised. This has meant that many businesses continue to hold a watching brief as to how they will manage their workplaces and employees will work in the future. 

But this isn’t time that should be wasted. It’s an opportunity for CRE leaders to innovate and plan for the future. What arrangement will suit both the business strategy and the way employees want to work? While pre-pandemic it may have been the case that businesses for the greater extent dictated where an employee would work, the post-pandemic world will require a greater focus on where employees want to work. A recent survey by PwC found that more than half of the employees surveyed would like to work remotely at least part of the time after the pandemic.  

So what approach should a business take? Here are five considerations CRE leaders should start thinking about now, so they’re not caught on the hop when lockdowns ease.

1. How to embed the right behaviours for hybrid working?

Many companies have been quick to embrace Zoom and Teams to ensure business continuity during lockdown, but as we move to a hybrid approach of home, office and mobile working as travel restrictions lift, ensuring equality for everyone in the meeting will be crucial. Businesses need to focus on how their people can collaborate effectively, and avoid creating a two tier system of those in the office/room and those not. This is the challenge of the new hybrid world: ensuring behavioural change so people don’t fall into old habits of ignoring people not in the room and maintaining meeting etiquette that we have achieved during the pandemic (equality on Teams).

2. What will hybrid working look like?

Recent workplace surveys suggest that many employees don’t want to go back to 100% office-based working when they’re able to return to the workplace, so what will this look like in terms of estate planning? As discussed previously, looking at your data will be a key factor when making decisions; how do employees actually behave, not just what they say they would do.  How much flexibility about when and how they work will they be given and how will real estate portfolio provide? Or will third party spaces on pay as you go/token credit basis located proximate to home be more appealing.

3. Change management in a workplace transformation

Many businesses see this time of home working as an opportunity to transform the business and CRE has an important role in this. But what a business does with its real estate – how you optimise your portfolio while maintaining capacity for employees to choose whether to work at home, in the office or a third location – will have a direct impact on employee performance. Make no mistake, this is likely to be a huge cultural shift for the business and effectively communicating plans and getting buy-in from employees will be crucial to successfully embedding the new strategy.

4. Better buildings for the future

It’s no longer just Millennials and Gen Z’ers who are focused on the responsible business credentials of a company. It’s now seen as a given that a business takes this seriously and CRE has a significant role to play. As companies revisit their estate portfolio, making it more sustainable and efficient should be a key element of the planning.   

5. Attract and retain top talent

With recruitment costs and implications for productivity and resource ever increasing, retaining your top talent – as well as attracting talent to the business – is more vital than ever before. Getting your workplace strategy right is crucial as employees become more choosy about what they want to see. CRE has a crucial role in the company Employee Value Proposition – where and how you expect an employee to work compared to the rest of the market is an important factor for many when choosing a new employer or staying put. While CRE may only account for 10% of a company’s expenditure, with 80% covering staff salaries and benefits, it’s important that a business spends that 10% wisely. The pendulum has swung but how and when will it swing back? This may be different for different organisations. 

There are huge changes ahead for the workplace and it’s no longer an option to just wait and see. Businesses need to take action now: look at the data of how employees are using the estate, review the business strategy and growth plans and prioritise actions to ensure the appropriateness of the estate portfolio and how it operates. Crucially, the portfolio will now include the homes of employees and the conversations needed will involve engagement with legal, HR, risk and other central areas of the business. 

There is a huge opportunity for CRE to make a contribution to long term business success and contribute to wider societal gains, and these opportunities need to be acted upon now.