Using real estate as a tool to encourage RTO

A people-first approach to workplaces will entice employees back and create the culture to succeed

October 23, 2023
  • Hannah Dwyer

For the last few years, employees have enjoyed being in the driving seat when it comes to workplace flexibility. Hybrid is now recognised as the way most of us want to be working, and it seems we’re broadly settling on between 2.5-3 days per week in the office. Our research also shows that office attendance is starting to hit an equilibrium in terms of existing days in the office and employee expectations, suggesting that figure is where it will settle.

But as return to office (RTO) rates vary by region and geography, in-office attendance for some organisations is still a challenge, and they’re exploring new methods for getting people back.

So, this autumn, do we expect to see more mandates to push employees into the office? There will be some companies looking to take a harder line, but for others, it’s about coming up with clever and alternative ways to avoid mandates, and the role of real estate is high up on that agenda.

In H1 2023, our data indicates 79% of us globally were in the office more than 3 days a week, which compares to 51% in H1 2022, showing workstyles are evolving with more of us working for more days in the office. What’s more, 19% of organisations globally are now tracking employee compliance to their requested workstyles.

We’ve seen these changes reflected in our Hybrid Continuum Model (a tool we use to tack where organisations sit on the hybrid spectrum globally). This is particularly true for the tech sector, which has seen organisations shifting their policies towards ones that are more office-centric, although still operating under a hybrid working model. The banking and finance sector took a harder stance to RTO from the outset, with stricter office-centric attendance policies, and therefore less ‘movement’ on the continuum.

I’m often asked what will be the fall-out for organisations who mandate. There have been some examples of organisations that have been met with protests, when strict mandating has come in, and where employees have ‘resisted’, some organisations (such as those in the financial sector) have responded by directly linking office attendance compliance, with bonus.

The long-termer term and strategic answer, particularly when it comes to talent, is that it’s too early to tell.  Organisations are on a ‘wait and see’ approach, not wanting to be the first-mover, but watching to see what others do and how it plays out in those organisations.

But why do organisations want people back in the office?

Our research shows that face-to-face collaboration, improved productivity, increased social connections, cultivating culture, and mentorship and development are the top 5 motivations behind clients encouraging employees to work from the office. 

To succeed, I believe that organisations need to focus on having a people-first and human-centric approach to their real estate, using the place of work as a tool that connects employees and gives them a place of work that works for them.

Over the past three years, many people have built new expectations based around lifestyle decisions and employer promises. Now, they’re understandably reluctant to relinquish their new-found work life balance. However, if the right workplace experience is achieved, the question of ‘what am I giving up to be in the office’ will flip to ‘what am I giving up by not being in the office?’

When office design focuses on creating spaces that are truly fit-for-purpose for the workforce, that are sensitive to differences and leading in terms of WELL, ESG and technology ratings, then it creates an environment that delivers what employees want. And what they want are amenity-rich spaces that allow different workstyles to flourish and are flexible to the working needs of any employee’s day.

In a world where there is a war for talent, organisations that put their people first are set to benefit, not only with increased office attendance, but with better staff engagement, retention and productivity.

As with most things in life, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ and finding the right balance is no cookie-cutter process. Firms should work in partnership with employees to find something that suits both workforce preferences and longer-term business objectives. Companies that do, will ultimately be rewarded.