Nearly three years after the work-from-home model became standard operating procedure, employees and employers alike are still trying to determine which practices and policies provide the most flexibility and fairness but, as everyone is finding out, one size will never fit all. During an international roundtable discussion, participants from France, Italy and the United States agreed that for the workplace to survive long-term, employers need to make coming to the office “less of an obligation and more of an opportunity for employees to function effectively and further their careers.” The roundtable was sponsored by iOffice + SpaceIQ and moderated by the company’s Mike Petrusky.

This proposed space at 40TEN Boston illustrates the both an open and enclosed environment, which allows for collaboration and flexibility by creating a “social garden” where teammates can connect or relax and find respite from their permanent workstations. Photo courtesy of JP2 Architects.

Hybrid work is never going away

“People now demand flexibility in everything they do including the way they buy and the way they work and employers need to adapt accordingly,” suggests Dr. Marie Puybaraud, Global Head of Research, JLL, speaking from France. “The resiliency of the workforce is what allowed many companies to survive the healthcare crisis and the hybrid work model is here to stay. We cannot run away from it. The role of the built environment is to support work and the community, and as companies successfully achieve this, the social value of the built environment will gain in importance.”

“We cannot pick one hybrid policy and expect it to work for everyone and every real estate project, due to different job responsibilities and industries,” explained Christa Dodoo, Workplace Change Manager, UN WFP, who participated from Rome. “Employers need to recognize that employees have gained significant power the past two years and they need to be flexible or face the loss of talent. It is important to provide motivation for employees to come to office, but most haven’t figured that out yet. What does work collaboration truly mean? Companies have also been trying to figure this out the last several of years.”

Successful workplaces establish a purpose

“Not every job function requires employees to physically be in the office, so it is important to establish a sense of purpose to draw people in,” said Marc Weigum, Director, Real Estate and Workplace Technology, Twilio from his office is Seattle, Washington. “Companies are still searching for the best solutions to accomplish this and, just when they do, things are likely to shift again. COVID taught us how to effectively engage with our customers in different spaces, including the home, the coffee shop and outdoors and now the lines have been blurred regarding where people can effectively work. That is a good thing but also presents problems for employers.”

In its “2023 workplace predictions” whitepaper, iOffice + SpaceIQ explains that “some organizations are playing catch up with the needs of their people. At the same time, others are experiencing positive outcomes by implementing a way of working that once seemed radical. Rightsizing physical space for a hybrid work world is paramount, along with keeping asset and portfolio costs under control. Companies are walking on a workplace balance beam through a workspace maze.”

“We are seeing that when people who need structure and human interaction are isolated at home, this can be very detrimental to their wellbeing and that WFH is not right for everyone,” explained John Hutch, Principal, JP2 Architects. Discussions about a hybrid work environment that started as companywide policies are now transitioning to, how does a particular person work best, what is the best approach for certain roles and positions within a company and how much time do we all need to be in the office to keep a strong culture?

“As companies continue to find their own path towards what hybrid work means for them, we have seen a stabilization in company policies. In the end, we truly are social creatures, and we crave interaction.  WFH is a very personal issue that continues to unfold,”  he added.