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Space Utilization, Corporate Real Estate Strategy, Workplace strategy, Covid-19 - 11 min read

Expert opinions - will work from home be the new working norm?

Tim Bloemer February 25, 2021

In our most recent article, I shared my personal view that Working from Home will never be the new norm. To closer explore what the market has to say about this topic, I sat down with three facility managers. I asked them a couple of questions regarding their viewpoints on work from home (WFH), the changing role of the office workplace and what the new workplace norm could look like.

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What do facility managers (FM’s) have to say about WFH as the new norm?

To closer explore our three scenarios we sat down with three facility managers from CRE and asked them a couple of questions regarding their viewpoints on WFH, the changing role of the office workplace and what the new workplace norm could look like. 

 

Facility Manager #1: Jeroen Kuipers, ABN AMRO

Jeroen Kuipers, who works for Dutch bank ABN AMRO, told us “I am amazed at how quickly things have changed across the workplace. We have managed to do what we thought would take three years, in three months. Overall, we have been extremely productive, which has also been the case for some production departments who were facing backlog issues before the pandemic. I think WFH has made this possible in large part, hence we are looking to continue WFH going forward. Currently, we are planning for our employees to work between two to three days per week at home. Going to the office will then only be for certain activities on set days. And certain departments and activities simply require more time at the office than others, so we have to take that into consideration as well.”

 

“We have also noticed that our employees miss the social interaction from work. Zoom or Microsoft teams simply doesn’t replace the physical contact we’re used to from before Covid. Therefore, to encourage greater interaction and collaboration at the office we are planning to redesign our office spaces to incorporate 45% work spaces and 55% meeting spaces for teams and departments to work on collaborative projects. Having that flexibility to make the necessary changes is key for us. Lastly, the pandemic has made us more aware and pushed us towards thriving for greater corporate responsibility. We want to avoid employees losing that connection to the organization, especially the younger generations who are often newer to the organization and are experiencing this pandemic vastly different compared to some of their older colleagues.”

Facility Manager #2: Dutch financial and asset management F2000

A facility manager of a large Dutch financial and asset management company believes “most companies will try to implement a combination of WFH and working at the office. Giving employees the choice where and when to complete their work is becoming extremely relevant nowadays.” She continues by highlighting the importance of being “flexible” and “preparing for different scenarios” in times of the pandemic and as you prepare for the future. 

“Currently, we are in the process of using utilization data to monitor and predict our future space usage, and as of right now we estimate that roughly 40% of our employees will work at the office (at any one time) following the pandemic. This is the number we are currently working with, but that might change going forward. This prediction will not necessarily mean reducing the number of square meters of the company, but it will affect how the spaces are used and changed accordingly. Moreover, it is important for us to start preparing now in making decisions regarding our future office spaces. If we only start preparing in two years time, it will already be too late. To help us with our decision-making we are using space utilization data to gain the necessary insights. We are planning for example, to use the data to schedule our teams and departments across the week in order to avoid high utilization at the start of the week and low utilization towards the end.”

Facility Manager #3 Ludo Franken, City of Breda
Ludo Franken, who works for the City of Breda, told us that his employer has made the decision that WFH will be part of the new working norm going forward. “We are implementing WFH with activity-based working, meaning employees can work from home and at the office. Working from the office will mean we have less assigned workplaces and more team and project spaces. I am optimistic that by the beginning of 2022, we will have fully transitioned to WFH being a full-time option should employees wish to do so, in combination with activity-based working at the office. We believe in flexibility. Employees should always be allowed to work in the office should they need to. Some people might not have the space or technology at home so these employees are always more likely to work in the office rather than at home.”

“Essentially what we want to avoid however, is having massive peaks at the beginning of the week and close to no utilization at the end of the week. To avoid this issue we are planning on assigning specific days to specific teams and departments to come to the office and complete their work. Currently, we are still optimizing some things seeing what works and what doesn’t, because this will likely not be the last virus so we have to prepare for that.”

Future outlook

One thing we know for certain is that the workplace will change following the pandemic. How it will change remains to be seen, but WFH will play a central role in this. From the insights we got from the three facility managers it is likely that there will be a combination of working from home and at the office. This aligns with the hybrid workplace strategies that leading enterprises across the globe are adopting currently.

It is also likely that companies will make office design changes, focused on increasing collaboration and social interaction. Seeing people online has been satisfactory, but it simply does not replace the in-person interactions. Additionally, companies are likely to reduce their corporate real estate portfolios, this could be through subleasing or co-sharing for example. 

Uncertainty around when COVID will end and what the new norm will look like is making accurate utilization data more important than ever. In order to get utilization insights across a large CRE portfolio quickly, it is critical to be able to leverage utilization data from multiple sources, yet analyze the data from a single analytics view.  

 

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Tim Bloemer