What companies are missing about hybrid work

A disconnect between employee expectations and corporate investment stem from lack of data, tech

June 12, 2023

If you’re heading into the office on a Tuesday, you may have noticed your commute getting longer. As of mid-April, JLL research says there’s an average office occupancy of 60% on Tuesdays in the 10 U.S. cities it tracks, leading to more cars on the road and more people using public transportation. But the other days of the week (except Friday) are quickly catching up—recently reaching nearly 50% occupied.

Despite the gradual rise on occupancy, employees and corporate leaders are still frustrated with their companies’ current hybrid work strategies—and time is ticking to get it right. 

“It’s clear that hybrid is here to stay. Employees expect it, and employers are trying to respond to this,” says Amber Schiada, JLL’s Americas head of Work Dynamics research and strategy. “But the reality is that many companies are still trying to figure out how to manage it.” 

Schiada notes there are many reasons behind the disconnect: Approaches aren’t people-centric; ownership in hybrid strategies isn’t shared; and there isn’t enough invested in the technology needed for a hybrid work environment.

“One of the biggest hurdles leadership faces is a discrepancy in how the physical office is designed and how employees now use it,” she adds.

For example, employees might say that they only want to come to the office as a place to collaborate with peers. However, data shows that most people use the office as a place to focus on work, Schiada notes.

“From an office real estate perspective, the world has changed. There’s significant pressure to cut costs, especially as inflation moves those costs higher,” Schiada says. “So, when it comes to hybrid, there’s a balance between what companies are investing in and ensuring those investments have the maximum impact.”

Investing in tech

Post-pandemic, it’s apparent that office workers can manage many of their tasks from virtually anywhere. The “hub-and-spoke model” evolved, with the office becoming a hub of collaboration, while the home and other third places became spokes. Companies planned to invest heavily in the “new office,” bringing in more conference rooms and technology to blend in-person and remote workers.

“While everyone is operating in a period of cost pressures, corporations are very much scrutinizing their real estate strategies,” Schiada adds. “Expansions have slowed down significantly. Now companies are looking at optimizing their existing space and making it a better fit for however they choose to use it.”

However, Schiada reports that there is still a level of catching up needed when it comes to technology advancements.

One main area that companies haven’t addressed yet is capturing the right metrics. JLL’s Technology and Innovation in the Hybrid Age report looks at 15 different types required for a fully functioning hybrid office. Researchers found that most companies had only implemented about four of them, due to concerns about cost and a lack of confidence in what technologies would be the most effective.

JLL’s Future of Work survey also shares that only 13% of the companies surveyed placed themselves in an advanced perspective when it came to their tech journey.

Future proof offices

Schiada mentions she’s constantly hearing clients ask, “How do we incorporate hybrid technology to make our buildings future-proof?”

Having a robust approach to metrics is imperative because she says partial and anecdotal data needs to be more accurate.

As companies accelerate their investment in technology to meet the challenges of a hybrid office, researchers say it is increasingly difficult to understand the landscape, which tools are aligned with your specific goals and how best to integrate them into your operations.

Technology enables companies to capture new data types we weren’t even looking at five years ago. When companies looked at facilities management, they probably thought about cleaning, security and services. Now, it’s about looking at the space. Is it efficient? What is the energy use? What is the corporate real estate cost per person? Is the office inclusive? Is it diverse?

“A whole new level of metrics has emerged, and that’s what should be driving companies’ decisions,” Schiada says. “That’s what will allow them to be more nimble, transparent and responsive to the needs of their entire organization.”

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