What do office workers want? It’s not what you think

As the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be easing around the world, more businesses are taking tentative steps toward normalcy. Some are dropping indoor mask requirements for vaccinated employees. Some, like Microsoft, set specific dates for most of their employees to return to the office. But while over the past two years much of the debate surrounding the office sector has focused on infection prevention and the merits of in-person versus remote work, relatively little attention has given to what white-collar employees want back in the office. . Much of the push on the corporate occupier side has been toward the same trends that dominated pre-pandemic setups, with an emphasis on collaboration through “shared” spaces, shrinking desktop footprints to save space money in the name of hybrid work schedules and flexibility in the form of features such as office booking. But is this what most employees expect from the office? We looked at a few recent surveys to find out.

The office is always important

“The pandemic has created fundamental shifts, not only in the way we work, but also in our expectations,” says Janet Pogue, principal and global head of workplace research at global design firm Gensler. “Our priorities have changed, and we have a new awareness and appreciation for how we spend our time, how we work best, and what experiences we want to have.”

Gensler’s research indicates that working from home during the pandemic has increased the value and relevance of the office, with workers wanting to return to the office full-time or for part of the week. “Across 11 different Gensler surveys of office workers, the main purpose of the office has remained reasonably constant: people want to come into the office to collaborate with their team or colleagues,” Pogue says.

Additionally, the office remains important for employees to access specific spaces, materials, and resources. Even during this winter’s wave of Omicron, Gensler’s survey recorded an increase in people wanting to return to the office31% compared to 25% in the summer of 2021, at the start of the Delta variant.

In fact, results from the Gensler Winter 2021 survey, which included 2,364 U.S. office workers, showed that 80% of respondents said they had ever visited their company’s offices during the pandemic. When asked what features would make them comfortable returning to the office, 80% cited indoor air filtration systems, 74% cited access to more private spaces, and 65% cited vaccination requirements. Sixty-five and 61% cited operable windows and outdoor workspaces, respectively. “More collaborative spaces” was not listed as a top feature in Employee Preferences.

Pogue notes that in pre-pandemic surveys, workers’ preference for more private space had already increased, so it is now more important than ever to rethink the mix of spaces and the varying degrees of openness of the layout. in the office.

A focus on health and hygiene

A Workforce Barometer Survey from commercial real estate services company JLL, which included 3,368 participants from the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia, found that health and quality of life are among the top priorities of today’s office workers.

Those priorities may now be just as important to employees as the level of financial compensation the company offers them, according to Peter Miscovich, managing director, strategy + innovation at JLL. “Focusing on well-being at work has become not just a benefit, but a necessity to ensure the safety and health of employees and to improve human performance,” he notes.

In the JLL survey, 75% of respondents expect a workplace that implements health and safety measures including clean air filtration systems, “touchless” technologies, operable windows that can be open and LED lighting. “These are not new concepts, but workers are now demanding these workplace health and wellness considerations, and building owners and tenants need to consider very seriously new investments in workplace health and wellness. work in order to stay competitive,” says Miscovich.

Additionally, JLL research shows that 37% of workers cited less dense work environments, 33% cited physical separation of office spaces, and 25% cited the lack of office sharing as crucial to them. in a post-pandemic environment.

Office workers want privacy

A survey by office furniture giant Steelcase, which asked nearly 5,000 office workers about their preferences and concerns when returning to the office, also revealed a major push for more office privacy, 55% of respondents saying they would trade remote work days for an assigned office workstation. And 42% said that having an assigned desk will heavily influence whether they choose to work in the office or remotely on any given day. (In fact, the survey found that people who said they preferred to work remotely more than three days a week were also significantly more likely to say they would leave the company in the next six months.)

This suggests that while workers value the autonomy and flexibility of hybrid working, they also seek choice and a sense of belonging, says Chris Congdon, director of global research communications at Steelcase. There’s still a gap between what employers think office workers want and what they actually want, he notes.

Amid a trend called The Great Resignation, “The ability to work remotely and compensation are hugely important, but our research shows that employees also want to feel a sense of belonging, which has a big impact on culture. , engagement, productivity and retention,” says Congdon, adding that this should be a key consideration for organizations redesigning their workplaces.

Employers shouldn’t assume that people will only want to come into the office to collaborate, he warns. “They will also need places where they can concentrate and do their individual work.” Where assigned workstations aren’t offered, notes Congdon, mobile screens can be quickly and easily adapted to provide territorial and visual privacy.

As with other sources, Steelcase research shows that office workers based in the United States say air quality is their number one priority for office work. Adherence to safety protocols comes second, facility cleanliness third, physical boundaries fourth, and worker density within the office fifth. The availability of informal gathering areas came in a distant eighth place, behind safe access to food and drink.

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