On January 18, 2021 Victoria began a staged return to the office with most workplaces in the private sector set to return to 50% capacity. By the beginning of March, offices were expected to be mostly full, with new measures put in place to make workers feel safe and supported. The media reported a steady rise in foot traffic in the CBD as companies were interviewed about their staff’s excitement over a return to in-person meetings.
In reality, things look a little different. In fact, the big return to the office has not exactly met expectations, particularly among landlords and business leaders.
The Property Council Of Australia’s recent office occupancy survey has revealed that occupancy in Melbourne’s CBD stood at just 24% in the last week of February.
So why aren’t people coming back? Case numbers have remained relatively low, (despite the snap lockdown in February) and there seems to be a growing confidence in our country’s handling of Coronavirus. But the reluctance to return isn’t only about the virus.
Regardless of how the “Working From Home Experiment” was received by different companies, we were mandated to leave the office for the better part of 2020. In other words, we had no choice. Now, as we emerge from a series of lockdowns and offices are (largely) open to everyone, the empty desks point to a shift in behaviour and attitudes. Those companies who respond to this shift with flexibility and open minds are the ones that will spearhead this monumental change in Australia’s working landscape.
The Office will Never Return To What It Was
It seems that many companies won’t accept the uncomfortable truth that the traditional office was never that great to begin with.
The hybrid work model that has emerged from the pandemic has not only paved the way for a “new look” office. It has also revealed the problems inherent in the traditional office model. Certain parts of that model, such as set working hours and locations have limited productivity and increased stress. Now the focus has shifted to output, which can be measured not by where a person is sitting, or time of day, but by the quality of work and the support given to ensure that work is delivered. The pandemic allowed workers to break out of the traditional office mindset and while the office itself will remain, the way they interact with it has changed forever.
What can your organisation do about it?
1.Listen to your people. It’s no longer a matter of when they will return, but how they will return. Flexibility is no longer a trend. It is now standard. If your staff have expressed a desire to work from home, it’s time to discuss an arrangement that works for both them, and the company. 2020 allowed many companies to discover what can be achieved from this hybrid model of working. Focus on ways in which a flexible working environment can promote productivity, rather than compromise it.
2.Look at your space. The office will remain a key part pf operations, but the space itself can be optimised to achieve a more cost effective, productive and healthy
outcome. From negotiating new terms in your lease, to changing the type of office furniture, the “new office normal” has re-shaped how you will view every part of your real estate strategy.
Location is a factor in the change
Are proximity to the CBD and long work hours still consequential to career success? Companies’ attitude to location is becoming increasingly flexible. Workers who live far from the CBD no longer need to endure the long commute or feel pressured to arrive on time. Those who work better outside of traditional work hours can remain productive without feeling stuck to their desk despite feeling “switched off”.
This new found flexibility can break down barriers and create better working conditions at every level, as people no longer feel physically tied to the office.
What can your organisation do about it?
BRM is currently facilitating discussions between business leaders and their staff to help organisations create a new working arrangement.
We use data from participating clients across a range of industries to help us gauge how workers are responding to the office return. We then combine that data with Government policies surrounding COVID safe workplaces and apply our findings to the specific company to achieve the best outcome.
Of course, there are many factors to consider when creating your workplace strategy, and not all are centred on the needs and desires of the employees. Furthermore, while individual productivity may improve with remote work, how will organisations maintain collaboration and strategy if their offices remain empty? For this reason, it’s preferable to engage experts that understand every aspect of your property and workplace journey, from property strategy, to staff engagement, design and furniture.
If you are interested in involving your staff in the next step towards the “new office normal” contact our Workplace Solutions Team to find out more.
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