Is the office back to stay?

We're all fairly entrenched in the work from home or remote working lifestyle now, but as we slowly revert back to pre-pandemic life, are we seeing the office coming back? According to the Office sentiment survey conducted by property and investment services company Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) in December last year, it seems that the office is still very much alive, and Kiwis still love their second home!

In the 21 months that have passed since our first lockdown, the pandemic has created a rapid shift in working and living patterns. Employees have adapted to working from home in compliance with health and safety guidelines and revealed an appetite for greater flexibility and hybrid ways of working.

The objective of JLL's survey was to understand New Zealand's sentiment towards the office from the perspectives of employees, occupiers, and landlords. 218 responses split between employees, occupiers (employers) and property owners reveals the office will be more important now than ever before as the centre of the work ecosystem, and that outstanding office environments will remain a critical way to engage employees.

As we all return to a sense of normality, we'll see more people return to their old ways of working within an office space, but with a few permanent changes to provide more flexibility and nimbleness.

The key insights from the survey show:

  • The office remains integral to corporate strategy. 'Office nostalgia' is prominent and most pronounced in outstanding offices, meaning the office has a major role to play in navigating periods of uncertainty.
    85% of employees now want to be in the office full time or at least 2-4 days a week, and only 2% want to work at home permanently - indicating how important an office environment is for social interaction and connection.
  • Within the context of an office space, sustainability is of most importance for owners. Despite a greater focus on environmental conditions, owners placed much more emphasis on its importance than occupiers or employees.
  • 13% of owners are considering improving sustainability, while only 5% of employees consider this as their first-choice for workplace considerations. Irrespective of age, this theme was consistent across the various age categories. We have seen environmental considerations for employees more prominent in offshore surveys, possibly indicating that New Zealand employees are just starting to understand how their decisions have a place to help support the changes the property sector can make to positively influence the environment.

So what changes will we see in the future and post-pandemic office? The office market is now defined by strong collaboration. Throughout the pandemic, owners and occupiers have worked together to maintain tenancies with initiatives like rent relief and fit-out incentives.

92% of owners have provided assistance to their occupiers during COVID-19 while 39% stated their number one priority was to meet occupier needs, fully supporting our views that strong collaboration provides the best outcomes.

Flight to quality is an ongoing trend. An increasingly competitive labour market has seen the office become a means of attracting and retaining talent with occupiers offering premium fit-outs in premium locations.

Increasingly, employees are becoming more vocal on their workplace expectations. This creates an opportunity for employers to gather this information and create an environment to assist their attraction and retention strategies. The majority of employees (85%) believe that the quality of office space and the location for ease of travel are now the two most important workplace environment factors.

While factors such as amenity, building considerations and end of journey facilities are important, if the location of the workplace and quality of space are inferior, this will have a detrimental impact on employees and potentially lead to higher attrition rates. Workplace trends are showing us that collaboration spaces and ergonomic furniture options are becoming an expectation in today's workspace.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 66% of employees said they had some form of flexible work options. Flexibility has become more widespread across the workforce with 87% now having the opportunity to work in a more flexible manner and the expectation is for this to continue.

The pandemic has only accelerated the change of the flexible working model, as many employees were already offered similar working environments. When looking at what type of flexibility was being offered, the hybrid working from home model is the most common with 55% employees saying this is currently offered, with the use of collaborative space being the next most common offering.

For a large part of the workforce, working from home presents challenges - lack of a dedicated workspace, interruptions, and social isolation. As a result, 49% of respondents do not want to work from home on a more frequent basis, implying that the office continues to be an important location for these employees and productivity being equal in both locations. Approximately 30% have not changed their views about working from home versus working from the office, with the remaining 21% wanting to work more from the office. The low proportion of people seeking to work from home on a full-time basis (2%) illustrates the importance employees place on face-to-face collaboration, social interaction with colleagues and learning through osmosis.

When employees were asked to rank what would be the most important option to them when they return to the office after lockdown restrictions, the top option is consistent with the ideal working week for a hybrid work model including remote working options, and then increased levels of cleaning and the third priority being less dense workspaces. These employee preferences are useful intelligence for occupiers (employers) in conjunction with property owners to consider offering the optimal flexible workplace environments for the employees.

As part of the survey, occupiers were asked, if you could make one change to your workspace then what would that be? The top two categories, both at 31%, were to re-configure for more collaborative areas and modernise the workplace covering better lighting and air-conditioning which will assist a more efficient office for a positive impact to the environment, which supports the third option of environmental changes.

At Modern Office, we specialise in commercial furniture and giving office spaces a new lease on life. Our team can take care of all aspects of a project, delivering the client the finished result with less hassle. Whether you need a full office fitout along with floor planning and design advice - or whether you just need to upgrade a few desks and chairs, we're here to help.

Modern Office is proud of this full service which they've perfected over the last 15 years and our team, with a number of successful projects under our belt. So if you need to get your organisation workplace ready again, get in touch to discuss your next project today.

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