Chase Garbarino is the Co-Founder and CEO of HqO.
We’ve seen it everywhere: Due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote and hybrid work models have increased dramatically in the past year. A Global Work-from-Home Experience Survey estimates that by the end of 2021, 25-30% of the workforce will be working remotely multiple days a week. Additionally, it reports that 56% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible (at least partially) with remote work.
While remote options certainly have their benefits — such as allowing people to work on a more flexible schedule — we should be wary of going “all in” on this approach. I believe office employees have far more to gain from an in-person workplace culture. Some things cannot be replicated online, and people together may be a company’s most valuable asset.
Addressing The Loneliness Epidemic
Some companies have already begun to see the detrimental effects of going remote, with one of the top concerns being loneliness. This makes sense: Humans require human interaction. One survey has indicated that 49% of remote office workers miss seeing their colleagues. Additionally, a Twingate study of 1,001 participants elaborates: “When asked about some of the downsides of working remotely, remote employees admitted the experience can sometimes feel lonely (65%), is different than they expected (51%), and feels too quiet compared to life in the office (48%).”
Similarly, having a daily habit and routine that encourages people to get out of the house and stay active is healthy. These kinds of routines may grant us socialization and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and they may produce a “healthy” amount of stress that enhances motivation, builds resilience, encourages growth and promotes social connections with peers.
Impacts To Productivity, Competition, Learning And Ownership
Though companies were optimistic in maintaining performance levels in the beginning of the pandemic, for some, sentiments have shifted over time. In Twingate’s October 2020 survey, 94% of respondents admitted to missing at least one thing about the physical office, with 48% stating that being in an office was better for their focus. Google cited its concerns over corporate culture loss and declines in productivity as an explanation for moving toward a more hybrid long-term model as opposed to staying fully remote.
When it comes to remaining competitive, researchers have established that “workers are more productive in large cities.” This is due, in part, to cities heightening competition — ensuring that only the most productive companies survive — and the concept of agglomeration economies, where benefits such as enhanced productivity result from workers and companies located near one another in industrial clusters.
Without in-person interaction, education may also take a hit. Learning and innovation happen on the edges. Every side conversation you have with a co-worker in the office, every collaborative work session, and every additional person you have access to — whom you may not regularly have access to — can lead to your company’s next big idea. Social environments that take us away from our screens can allow us to see the direct results of our actions, generating more trust, generosity and cooperation.
Ownership also falls victim to remote work. In Atomic Habits, James Clear explains how the majority of our habits are imitated: “The more local, tangible, concrete, and immediate the consequence, the more likely it is to influence individual behavior. The more global, intangible, vague, and delayed the consequence, the less likely it is to influence behavior.” In relation to the workplace, we could extrapolate this to mean that in-person work perpetuates a notion of accountability among workers. Social environments that take us away from our screens allow us to see the direct results of our actions, generating more trust, generosity and cooperation.
Finding A Balance
At the end of the day, commercial real estate landlords and property teams need to support what’s best for their tenants. Thus, the office sector needs to support a more hybrid approach to the workplace — one that blends physical and digital experiences to allow tenants and employees the flexibility of choice based on their needs.
I believe that technology is commercial real estate’s largest enabler. Powered by tech, landlords and property teams can expand their boundaries beyond buildings in order to provide tenants with a truly flexible workspace, putting experiences and a sense of community into the tenant’s hands no matter where they work on a given day. Also through technology, property owners can uncover insights that enable intelligent action that differentiates their assets.
Landlords and property teams incorporating technology should keep the following best practices in mind:
1. Leveraging trusted technology providers: This means having the easy ability to vet the quality of a technology solution to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
2. Interoperability: This means making sure that existing systems and new systems work seamlessly together on the back end of a building to ensure that the customer-facing experience is frictionless.
3. Data collection: This means using your building’s technology activations to increase a building’s data points to get actionable, meaningful data to inform investments and strategic decision-making.
Yes, there will be some days where employees still work from home. However, there will be plenty of days where they seek out the office — whether it be to see their peers, collaborate on projects or try to spark their latest innovative idea. Enabling landlords and teams to improve our real-world experiences has become mission-critical for society, so it’s time to make sure office buildings are up for the challenge.