Office blog

The great return to the office. What’s that got to do with property?

20 June 2022, by Dean Croucher

Post-COVID, the return to the office continues to be a much-debated topic. The Employee Experience Design School was keen to hear Dean Croucher’s insights on the challenges this is presenting leaders as part of its Masterclass panel earlier this month, which was facilitated by Samantha Gadd, Founder of EXDS and HumanKind. 

An overarching and consistent observation from the class was that an employee-centred approach to an organisation’s decisions, policy and change management always wins.

 

What we’re seeing now…

“Many predicted the mass working from home movement – and certainly there were some early movers in that space who took the opportunity to drop space. But I think they were already re-thinking their business model and C-19 was a convenient reason.

We think that the risk of a mass exodus – a ‘Great Resignation’ – has changed. Certainly there were a lot of organisations with teams working from home and some still are. But clearly we’re seeing more hybrid working with people given the choice and we’re seeing a significant return to the office.

However, and perhaps surprisingly, we’re also seeing some clients starting to signal that they’ll need more space. Some have been managing staff growth by having staff at home but, as they return, the pressure for more space is increasing.

That said, we’re also seeing space being used for intensely; pre-C-19, we saw desk sharing ratios of 8:10 and 7:10. Now clients are looking at 5:10 and some are looking to reduce the totalspace they occupy.

With people returning – perhaps they’re using the space differently and want to collaborate more – we’re seeing some clients starting to invest in more meeting spaces, which ties into what we’re seeing in technology. 

We’re still going through an adjustment phase. Organisations are re-calibrating how their teams are working and what changes are needed to the design and configuration of their workplaces.

A lot of this was already happening before C-19 but it’s accelerated this change. There’s a continued focus on consolidation/better space utilisation, more flexible and diverse workspaces, a focus on recruitment and retention, wellness, sustainability and increased amenity for staff.”

 

TwentyTwo’s role in decisions about hybrid/virtual workplaces

“We’re invested in helping businesses make better ‘property decisions’ – both strategic and commercial advice – to make them more successful. Our clients are ‘businesses/organisations’ first and foremost – and they only need property and workplaces to support their strategic goals and core intent. Otherwise, they don’t really care about property!

They could be a single site/single workplace or a large organisation (government, private sector, NFP) with multi sites across NZ or beyond and all sectors and industries.

The best clients in large organisations are those where the C-level person we’re reporting to either leads strategy and/or people and culture. Or ideally the CE is involved because you have a more strategic-led conversation. The best conversations and solutions often come when it’s more than a P&L conversation. 

One of TwentyTwo’s points of difference is that we really put ourselves in the shoes of business first. We know that property and the workplace and all the things around it is really an enabler – an enabler of business strategy and a catalyst for change and, if it’s done right, it can support a whole lot of strategic initiatives – brand expression, collaboration, recruitment, innovation etc. So we’re not invested in property per se.

The other thing that makes us different is that we can transverse from the traditional bricks and mortar world of property to the virtual/digital world – and have a growing workplace technology practice that’s thriving in this new hybrid/virtual workplace.”

 

This leads us into technology… 

The need for technology to support ‘how and where’ work is done is clearly a key element of the return to work conversation – whether that is technology in the office or at home.Our workplace technology practice helps clients with all of these decisions. It flows from our workplace strategy offering and really fills a void in the market where it’s very much vendor-led, not business solution-led. 

The workplace from a people and culture/employee experience, workspace/physical space and technology perspective has been talked about for 20 years. But we’re finally seeing some real collaboration across these disciplines with a focus on:

  • Supporting hybrid working – making it easy for staff to connect wherever they are. There’s a big change in reliance on Wi-Fi and better Wi-Fi design, with very few clients installing structured cabling. Some clients are moving to 5G and removing a reliance on Wi-Fi. It’s all about mobility
  • A huge increase in expectations for technology. We’ve gone from being happy it worked to a focus on user experience such as seamless, one-touch meeting set-up for Teams and Zoom
  • Integrating and designing for video conference/Zoom etc as the norm, rather than an afterthought. This is forcing architects to think about how the spaces support face-to-face and virtual meetings leading to greater thinking on acoustics, lighting and automation. Many are being dragged into this new world kicking and screaming!
  • More automation! People want one-touch meeting, automated lighting and blinds…
  • Increased desk sharing requires increased desk booking systems and management systems to manage occupancy

Our approach, as ever, is tailorisation over fads or off-the-shelf solutions. We need to understand how teams work and interact and design the spaces and tech to suit. We’re not designers. But we do provide the intelligent business-led briefing that ensures designers solve the right problems.”

 

 

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About the author

Loves anything blue. Avoids routine and making plans. Dreams of playing golf on the senior tour. Should have been a chef or writer. Fond of chardonnay and food (any kind).

Dean is one of NZ's leading property advisers with 30 years of consulting experience acting for major tenants and owner-occupiers. He specialises in property strategy, tenant representation, project leadership and major transactions. He also continues to provide peer review advice across all major projects.

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