When it comes to work and place, the period since the start of the pandemic has been dominated by one, over-riding subject: hybrid working. The pandemic gave employers and employees alike little choice: work was abruptly shifted from office to home, in many cases literally overnight.
Yet while lockdowns are behind us, confusion and debate around what, and for whom, the office is for, is rapidly heating up, as likely to be being discussed at a mum’s toddler group or down the local pub as in board rooms or now even the mainstream business press. Hybrid working has quickly become embedded, leaving employers and the real estate sector rushing to catch up.
However, even a passing glance at workplace data from the last decade makes it clear that many of the impacts on real estate and workplace design of the mass adoption of hybrid working should not be a surprise.
Leesman’s surveys, first started in 2010, and the subsequent research have created a vast database and benchmark. They provide valuable insights on workplace design and its impact on employee behaviour, and are used by the organisations who have adopted our audit methodologies to help them create better work environments. It has also left us with an extraordinary wealth of data showing trends as they develop in real time.
From 2020, we expanded our focus to include not just physical workplaces but hybrid working too; in just three years, the Leesman Home Working methodology has collected data from more than 380,000 employees worldwide.
Most importantly, this means Leesman is uniquely positioned to deeply understand what is happening in the world of work, not just in the last three years but to understand how that differs to the preceding decade.
We know what has worked. But we also know what hasn’t worked – and still isn’t working. And we have a pretty good idea of what’s likely to come too and at what pace, enabling our clients to be ‘future ready’.
Offices haven’t been working for a long time
Leesman asks employees about their workplace and how they support their work activities. We have 21 standard workplace activities within our assessment technique. We also have a series of lines that probe typical corporate outcomes, like sense of pride or personal productivity.
Some of these activities have been mathematically proven to have a statistically stronger influence on those outcomes. We term these ‘Sentiment super-drivers’. They are the wiring to a successful workplace experience – but as far back as 2018, long before the first Covid-19 case, of the five ‘Sentiment super drivers’, just one was better supported in the average workplace (‘Learning from others’). The remaining ones were all better supported at home: ‘Planned meetings’, ‘Individual focused work, desk based’, ‘Relaxing, taking a break’, and ‘Thinking/creative thinking’.
If we take a wider view, just four out of all 21 activities were better supported in the average office.
In other words, space designed for living was supporting the activity of work better than spaces specifically and exclusively designed for work.
In particular, our research has highlighted a group of important activities where the difference between where they are best supported is less dramatic. Things like ‘Collaborating on creative work’, or ‘Informal unplanned meetings’. Firms need to focus on making these activities better suited to the office than the home if they want to win back workers.
One other thing worth noting: since 2013, the support agreement for two of the bedrocks for high-performance work – ‘Individual routine tasks’ and ‘Individual focused work, desk based’ – have seen their scores improve by just one per cent. In other words, the real estate industry, its supply chain and designers have done little to nothing to improve employee satisfaction in these two extraordinarily important functions over the last decade.