Investing in the workplace growing more pivotal

Post-COVID planning should suit the unique needs of a business
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
By Robyn Baxter

The workplace has always been a critical component of the ecosystem of any business, and even more so today. Challenges during the pandemic have created a unique opportunity to rethink the workplace—putting people, health and innovation first. Such knowledge can be a catalyst to proactively examine the path forward and the unique impacts to different organizations.

Business aspirations, culture, processes and relationships continue to provide the foundation to inform strategic workplace decisions. The workplace is an investment in the business, and an organization should expect a return. But in order to do that, companies need to understand how having their people together in a specific physical space impacts their business—their ability to deliver services or products, to create new knowledge, to mentor their people and to grow and develop as a company.

Understanding the way employees work and interact contributes to a business’ success more than deciding how much physical space is needed. Carefully crafting an inclusive workplace response, requiring integration of people programs, implementing technology tools and systems, rethinking work processes and interactions, and building shared experiences all accelerate business outcomes. By incorporating these aspects into a cohesive solution, an organization can make rational and effective decisions that will result in a return on their investment in office space.

Impact of COVID-19 on the business

No doubt organizations today, and post-pandemic, are wondering what the impact of this experience will have on their real estate decisions. There are two significant components here: how to bring people back into the workplace safely in the near-term and innovations and changes needed in the long-term.

For both, it is important to understand the gains and losses during the work-from-home experience. How have the business and its people struggled and how have they excelled? While most organizations were able to adjust quickly as a short-term reactive strategy, it should not be assumed that these temporary fixes translate easily into enduring solutions. The longer the pandemic causes companies to operate in a climate of lockdowns and uncertainty, the more cracks will show.

Independent tasks and the coordinated aspects of work are benefiting work-from-home arrangements. People feel more productive, most leaders are supportive, and technology is helping to navigate all this. In fact, Colliers’ recent global survey confirms that 54 per cent of people feel more productive working from home. However, when feeling connected, the picture is less rosy: almost 40 per cent of people feel less connected to their teams, and of those, 85 per cent feel their productivity has decreased.

Business leaders are increasingly frustrated with the pandemic pace. While few doubt the monumental effort their people are making, it’s increasingly more difficult to streamline work and to ensure cross-functional collaborations are occurring effectively, and that tacit knowledge is shared and understood.

These challenges then begin to lead to issues related to culture, cohesion and relationships—the imperceptible aspects of how work happens in a knowledge-based organization. The more complex the problems that need solving, the more difficult this exclusively home-based situation becomes. As one senior executive recently said, “We can run our business from home, but we’re not growing our business from home.”

How do we prepare for the post-pandemic future?

Preparing for the long-term should begin now. This includes creating a strategy with objective analysis:

  • What has been learned. An honest look at the good and the bad;
  • How, where and when all aspects of work are performed best;
  • What matters most to your people. How different scenarios will impact employee health, wellness and engagement;
  • Organizational dynamics; the less obvious aspects of how teams and groups function at their best;
  • The financial impacts of various options.

Out of this comes a cohesive plan to address programs, policies and business practices that reinforce business goals. An evidence-based real estate strategy will emerge, one that creates a positive impact on business outcomes and reduces risk.

More importantly, creating a plan ensures a complete solution that suits the unique needs of a business and is both feasible and viable, rather than a reactive solution based on “what is everyone else doing?” This conversation is not new; however, its priority has accelerated within almost every organization. Now it’s time to realistically evaluate the benefits and barriers of workplace options to design the best path forward.

Robyn Baxter is the senior vice-president and co-managing director of workplace advisory at Colliers Canada. She is a client-focused, results-oriented workplace strategy leader with more than 30 years of experience, developing effective workplace, change and engagement strategies.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova

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