FAQ: The truth about America's return to the office

We answered your top questions from the webinar

November 10, 2021

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how the workplace will change moving forward, but we do believe there are four foundational truths driving the future of the office. In a recent webinar, powerhouse leaders from across JLL shared their perspectives about

  • U.S. office re-entry timelines across the country
  • Structural and cyclical factors impacting the office industry
  • New office space demand and investment resurgence signals
  • Responsible workplaces that work

We answered your most pressing questions below. Listen to the full recording here.

Jump to: Employee experience | Safety | Workplace and location strategy | Environmental, social and governance 

Employee experience

Q: During the live poll, 50% of attendees said they plan to make investments in employee experience. Where should most of these funds be invested?

A: Technology that supports collaboration, connectivity and productivity between in-person and remote workers is highest on the wish list. Mobile workplace apps deliver a personalized experience by aiding in desk and space reservations, scheduling and hosting meetings, requesting IT services and more to provide a seamless in-office experience. Also consider investing in technology that ensures employees are productive regardless of where they work by supporting a hybrid workplace strategy and giving employees access to health and wellness tools.

Q: What critical changes in amenities should office building owners implement to satisfy and attract tenants?

A: Buildings in prime locations that offer a host of amenities have the most activity right now—just as they did before the pandemic. Owners should focus on spaces that are intentional and provide value to tenants. Relaxation spaces, healthy food services and outdoor spaces are what employees expect today, but only a small percentage have access to them. This is a huge opportunity for owners to differentiate their buildings.

Q: How are different companies providing their employees a feeling of safety in the office, and conveying that there’s value to coming back in vs. staying remote?

A: Companies must create a better in-office experience versus what employees get at home. We know people miss the face-to-face collaboration and socialization that only happens at the office, but there’s still hesitation when it comes to the virus and Delta variant. Companies that have clear communication around their safety procedures and culture are experiencing higher return rates than those that lack clarity. Some of our clients piloted building-level thermal scans that take employee’s temperatures as they enter the building. Others used third-party apps that screen employees with health questions. In our Dallas office, we piloted Bluetooth contact-tracing wearables where employees wore a lanyard that detected physical proximity and duration, which assessed virus transmission risk. Implementing these precautions helped employers understand the level of risk at the office, and went a long way in making employees feel safe.



Q: What are the top three concerns employees cite regarding their reluctance to return to the office?

A: Employees’ top concerns about returning to the office are the commute, a higher chance of getting sick and mental stress at work. Offering flexibility, showcasing cleaning protocols and providing mental health resources are a few ways companies can make their work environments more welcoming, inclusive and safe.

Q: How are landlords and property managers providing a safe and disinfected space to tenants?

A: We're seeing investments in indoor air quality, cleaning and sanitization, and an increase in contactless technologies to keep surfaces clean and people safe. We recommend prioritizing high-trafficked areas when installing touchless solutions, such as hands-free door openers or touchless gesture controls.

Q: How are companies dealing with the back-and-forth nature of regional health mandates about working from home, and then easing restrictions?

A: Flexibility and communication are key. At this point, companies largely have contingency plans in place that accommodate a sudden return to working from home. However, there can still be confusion about who is coming to work, especially when companies have locations across the country that may face differing mandates. It’s important to have a clear communication plan, keeping managers informed of policies so they can communicate directly with their teams.


Workplace and location strategy

Q: How is space utilization changing as a result of COVID-19 with respect to individual vs. collaboration spaces?

A: We predict a change in the amount of space dedicated to individual and collaborative work. Before the pandemic, individual desks took up an average of 65 percent of most office space. As companies move toward a more flexible model, that number is expected to fall to about 40 percent. Rooms for collaboration will take up more space, and they’ll have the ability to transform from a typical conference room to classroom or auditorium style seating. This will accommodate more types of meetings and support the main purpose of the office—to foster connection, collaboration, creativity and culture. It also aids in de-densification. Some companies are discussing shifting target density from 150 square feet per person to approximately 180 to 200 square feet per person.

Q: Are companies scaling down their office footprints in the major metropolitan areas, and are suburban offices growing in response? If so, is the growth in suburban markets attached to the major cities, or is it in suburban markets in lower cost areas?

A: We anticipate that overall space reductions will be minor. Companies may find that having a satellite office in a suburban area and smaller headquarters in the city center is beneficial for their real estate strategy and their workforce. Prior changes in political priorities, regulations and tax policy, as well as COVID-19, accelerated movement to lower-cost, pro-business markets throughout Florida, Texas, Virginia and others. Hub-and-spoke models gained momentum with tech companies establishing outposts in the East Coast and Sunbelt markets, as well as legal and financial services tenants shifting back-office roles to lower-cost markets.

Q: Are more shared office space hubs popping up in smaller cities, especially for those who relocated from bigger cities?

A: It’s no secret that a fairly significant number of people moved from city centers to the suburbs during the pandemic. Urban vs. suburban lines have become blurred and to maintain a productive workforce, companies will need to take inventory of changes to regional talent pools. However, we don’t anticipate that shared office space will become the norm. There are benefits to having office locations outside the central business district, but these locations will vary by company rather than shared-service provider.

Flexible space is a good option for both landlords and tenants. It can complement the office stacking plan by providing incubator space for small businesses and spillover space for larger, traditional tenants. Office landlords will face greater competition due to a period of more subdued large, long-term tenant demand coming out of the pandemic, so it’s important to consider this offering. Lastly, landlords should consider incorporating flexibility and hospitality services into their portfolios to adapt to changes in occupier demand.


Environmental, social and governance

Q: Are there clear links and causations between ESG changes and changes in work practices?

A: Sustainability is increasingly important to employees—especially younger generations of who prefer organizations that share their values. This means that tenants are becoming more prescriptive about their non-negotiables when taking space, so landlords must accommodate. Although employees won’t feel the impacts of hard building upgrades such as reduced water consumption or electricity, they notice when their workplace displays LEED or WELL certification throughout the space. This reflects the investment from the landlord and showcases the result to employees who occupy the space.

Q: How are owners supporting the sustainability goals of occupiers?

A: Corporations expect more from the buildings they occupy—54 percent of leading occupiers are prioritizing building credentials in their occupancy decisions. As they make bigger commitments to sustainability, they’re more vocal about what they want from their leasing terms. As a result, owners are taking a purpose-driven approach to decision-making. Smart buildings provide data that uncover opportunities to increase efficiency—in heating and cooling, improving ventilation and reducing energy consumption, to name a few. We see an ongoing dialogue between owners and occupiers, and increased collaboration about ESG commitments.

Q: How are ESG efforts impacting the lease and sale value of commercial real estate properties?

A: There is a growing consensus that assets with ESG attributes will attract increasing capital allocations and demand. Hard data is needed to confirm these theories, but 73 percent of investors agree that green strategies drive higher occupancy, higher rents, higher tenant retention and overall higher value.

For more information about planning your return to the office and future workplace, visit our website.