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WFH is here to stay, just not every day

As the world grapples with the threat of COVID, the economic impact remains uncertain. Cases are reaching new highs in the US and urgent questions remain unanswered. When will we return to our workplaces? Has our workplace “normal” changed forever? Will work from home be the new normal?

How long before a widespread return to the workplace remains to be seen. Some estimates say that only twelve percent of the workforce is back to offices. Will offices ever be the same? Reading through daily headlines can be confusing, and they don’t paint a consistent picture. Companies like Twitter are embracing permanent work from home, while companies like JP Morgan are mandating workers return to the office. Facebook is buying massive office real estate, and Nationwide is downsizing from twenty offices to just four. Knowing what to expect is harder than ever.

Envoy has had front row seats to this evolution, as we sell software that helps companies better manage office space, reduce risk, and keep employees safe. What have we observed? This summer we saw a cautious momentum to re-open offices. We witnessed companies commit to new health and safety standards. We took note as many of our customers adopted capacity limits and encouraged social distancing. And we were happy to help, offering Envoy Protect to assist over five thousand workplaces power one million safe returns to the workplace.

In my role, I speak to Executives at Fortune 1000 companies every day. What I see emerging is a consensus that the office environment must evolve. Yes, there will still be offices. But they will become spaces where employees can meet in person and collaborate. What’s changed? It’s becoming clear that we all want an office we can go to. Yes, we’ve gotten used to working from home. Yes, we’ve adapted and embraced new technologies. But few of us want this state to become permanent. Gensler confirmed this with a recent survey of workers, where they found only twelve percent of employees want to work from home full time. 

The executives I’ve spoken to are anticipating a near full return to work at some point in the future. But they recognize that things have changed. They know that many employees are productive and happy working from home. They know that eliminating the daily commute has made life easier and better for many. That’s backed up by the same Gensler study, where 56% of employees said they want to work from home at least some days a week. 

This data raises an interesting question: how can companies manage real estate costs when employee demand on space varies from day to day? Yes, they will be able to realize some cost savings by reducing real estate expenditures if offices don’t need as much space. But this evolution also opens up new and exciting opportunities, beyond simply reducing the square footage of your office. How will organizations execute on a strategy that allows more of the flexibility we’ve become accustomed to, but also provides the space that we need on demand?

My opinion, informed by the daily conversations I have with business leaders, is that offices are already evolving to accommodate hybrid work. In this new model, companies will adopt flexible work schedules and allow employees to work from home. But they will also provide spaces for employees to utilize as needed. Xerox produced a recent study about the future of work, and it supports this hypothesis—forty percent of respondents said increased budgets will go toward hybrid workspaces. 

As we transition into a hybrid work environment, companies need new technologies to inform their real estate needs and to improve the employee experience, as the war for talent is ongoing. One of the first significant changes we’ll see is the elimination of assigned desk space. If employees have flexible schedules, the best way to maximize space will be to allow for “hot desking,” where desks can be utilized and space maximized based on real-time business needs. Providing employees a way to reserve desk space is paramount to eliminate confusion, to ensure health, to encourage collaboration—and to capture valuable information on space utilization.

Prescient business leaders know that technical solutions and data collection are insufficient. To win, we must provide an unparalleled workplace experience for our employees. Winners will invest in technologies that solve workplace problems, collect useful data, and ensure their employees stay focused on the most human of our working endeavors—collaboration and creative problem-solving. 

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At Envoy, we’re obsessed with building the flexible workplace of tomorrow. Our newest solution — Envoy Desks — makes it easy for employees to find a safe space to collaborate and be productive when they choose to work from the office.