Let’s reimagine the
future of work

In a recent issue of CoreNet's The Leader magazine, JLL’s Peter Miscovich shares how organizations can embrace the opportunity to reimagine the future of work.

This article was first published in the CoreNet Global magazine, The Leader.

COVID-19 has proven to be a powerful societal change agent affecting businesses and organizations on a global scale that is unprecedented.

For many years, we have focused on the accelerating pace of change that affects the business world and the resulting societal, cultural, and organizational norms that follow. We have focused on how emerging technologies will disrupt, transform, and “reset” global organizations across all industry sectors.

Back in January 2020, we forecast a gradual evolution of the workplace. In retrospect, that notion seems rather quaint today. Trends that have been gathering momentum for years, such as increased workplace mobility, have now rapidly accelerated during the weeks and months following stay-at-home lockdown orders. Meanwhile, other workplace movements, such as the increasing densification of corporate workplaces, have completely reversed course. The need for more agile and resilient workplaces and “flexible” real estate portfolios has never been greater. As you consider your own “next normal,” you can also embrace the opportunity for your organization to reimagine the future of work.

Focus on employee health and well-being Intensifies

While leading corporations have increasingly prioritized employee health and well-being over the past several years, COVID-19 rapidly brought this issue to the top of C-suite agendas. Every company must be concerned with employee health today as every company has been pushed into the “health and well-being business.” Indoor-air quality and sanitation practices are a top concern not only for the facilities management team, but now for everyone within an organization, including management.

Among other COVID-19 workplace changes, we will expect to see a greater number of health and wellness ambassadors to serve as part of the next-generation workplace ecosystem. These workplace ambassadors will ensure that people feel safe and protected and that workplace protocols are properly orchestrated to ensure health, well-being, and safety.

The workplace of the future will not be as sterile as a hospital; however, leading organizations will need to establish, exercise, and maintain preventative protocols and practices to ensure the health and well-being of their employees.

While preventing transmission of the novel coronavirus has certainly been priority No. 1, we are also seeing greater emphasis upon mental health, cognitive resilience, and emotional well-being as prolonged stress and “cognitive fatigue” of the pandemic weigh on many employees. Leading organizations are taking a far more holistic approach today than in the past, with measures aimed at improving quality of life and helping employees feel a greater sense of purpose and engagement in their work. As we move beyond workplace re-entry, many corporate real estate (CRE) executives – in collaboration with HR and C-suite leadership – can play a vital transformative role in shaping the future workplace to better support the whole employee. We are seeing the emergence of the “responsible enterprise” that will focus on enhancing “holistic” human performance and well-being as top organizational priorities.

Digital and business-model transformations Accelerate

The pandemic forced many businesses to transform the way they work, and at scale. For many organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated digital transformation initiatives that were already under way.

Some companies completely changed their delivery models to serve customers during the shutdown, leading to the rapid expansion of digital e-commerce platforms. These include greater access to telemedicine, pervasive digital banking, increased virtual customer services, and other expanding digital-business service models.

The knowledge workforce quickly embraced many new digital platforms to enable virtual and digital collaboration that would enhance productivity while working from home.

There is no going back now, and executives seem to be welcoming the change: 53 percent of CFOs surveyed by PwC say the new ways they are serving customers will put their organizations in a better and stronger position down the road. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for organizations to completely reimagine their business models, rethink their workforce models, and reinvent their future real estate and workplace strategies.

We will continue to see entirely new ways of working with greater adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and other cognitive technologies that will provide machine assistance with our daily work activities. These advancing human-to-machine technologies will free humans to focus on higher value creative thinking and more innovative work activities.

The 9-to-5 workday falls by the wayside, increasing demand for flexibility

Just as business strategies have changed to meet the challenges and opportunities of the pandemic shutdown, so did the way we work – and the places where work takes place.

The global work-from-home pilot that began during the first quarter of 2020 has transformed long-held perceptions about remote working. In 2019, 37 percent of companies had a structured work-from-home program, according to JLL research. Contrast that with April and May of 2020, when more than three-quarters of organizations reported that 80 percent or more of their employees were working from home.

The forced, work-from-home experiment has turned many non-believers to fully endorse the benefits of remote work. It’s not going away anytime soon. Even within organizations that have traditionally resisted work-from home arrangements, executives and employees found that they could indeed work productively from the confines of their home offices. In JLL’s research, 20 percent of these organizations increased collaboration and 12 percent increased productivity while working from home, at least in the short term.

Even as more offices become safe places to work again, more employees – with the blessing of their team leaders – may choose to work from alternate remote locations at least a few days out of the week, whether that’s their home office or some other environment that supports their work needs. The new “hybrid” work routine might come with new working hours as well, so employees can commute at less congested times or employees can enjoy more of the work life integration benefits they have grown accustomed to during the recent months.

Our view of the office will inevitably need to evolve for organizations to provide flexibility and optionality within this new emerging workplace dynamic.

Social distancing reverses workplace densification

The densification of offices was one of the defining trends for the past decade, with more employees operating in a smaller footprint today than 10 years ago.

In 2019, JLL’s Occupancy Benchmarking research found that a record high of 84 percent of organizations were allocating 150 to 225 rentable square feet (14 to 21 sq. m.) or less per seat. With social-distancing practices required due to COVD-19 re-entry, many organizations are now more likely to allocate upwards of 300 to 350 square feet (27.87 to 32.5 sq. m.) per person to accommodate COVID-19 re-entry social-distancing requirements.

To provide more personal space for employees, organizations are revamping floor-plan design and orchestrating employee occupancy based upon “rotational schedules” that will limit the number of people in a space on any given day. Some companies are even looking to lease additional space in new and existing locations so that more employees can work in the office while respecting social distancing.

Yet, the space calculation also must account for another conundrum – not knowing how many people will choose

Keeping track of individuals in the workplace and managing the occupancy of common areas will become more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

To visit the office on any given day in the post-COVID-19 workplace. Leading organizations will look to technology to help solve this emerging workplace challenge.

Technology and workplace utilization become ever-more critical

These combined workplace trends – including the reversal of densification, increased workforce mobility, and rapid business-model transformation – will all challenge CRE teams to accurately predict, forecast, and plan their space allocation and workplace-utilization capacities. This is another reason why accurate and real-time workplace utilization data will become increasingly important.

In 2019, 74 percent of organizations surveyed by JLL were gathering workplace-utilization data through a variety of high-tech and low-tech methods. Such data not only informs efficient workplace planning and space allocation, it also has very quickly become a critical health and safety enabler.

Accurate data is a necessity for organizations planning to bring back any portion of their workforce to the workplace. Keeping track of individuals in the workplace and managing the occupancy of common areas will become more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

Both office occupiers and retail space occupiers will likely adopt a wide range of sensory and AI-enabled technology that can recognize where people are located and use that real-time information to manage and ensure safe and healthy occupancy as well as advance “smart” space utilization.

What will be the future of work, post-pandemic?

The confluence of these trends will force organizations to completely reimagine their real estate portfolios and future workplace strategies.

Organizations will have a tremendous opportunity to reimagine the office as a social/learning place where people come together to innovate and collaborate – with the workplace helping to enhance the company’s organizational culture. People will always want and need to come together to engage with one another – and businesses can reap the benefits of high-value, in-person interaction and face-to-face workplace communication and innovation.

The workplace of the future is likely to include a “hybrid ecosystem” of physical and digital spaces where work happens: the office, coworking sites, homes, hotels and even virtual-reality sessions. In some cases, companies might need additional corporate real estate to meet emerging demands, especially with reduced density requirements.

We will see significant opportunities to transform CRE portfolios – and to “reimagine” the workplace in new and innovative ways that we may have never considered previously. Above all, organizations will need to consider: What is the purpose of the office, and what function and value does it provide to the organization and to employees long-term?

The answers to these important questions will provide an evolutionary blueprint that can help your enterprise successfully adapt to and reimagine the emerging “next normal.”

Let’s reimagine the future of work.