Prior to the pandemic, just 3.6% of employed people in the United States “usually” worked remotely, according to a BBC story on the Global Workplace Analytics Report “Telework in the 21st Century.” In the United Kingdom, that figure was 4.7%, the network said. Even in The Netherlands, often seen as the ultimate example of a flexible working culture, just 14.1% of the country’s workforce worked remotely.
North of the U.S. border in Canada, 16.6% of businesses reported that 10% or more of their workforce was working remotely, according to Statistics Canada. Like many things, however, COVID-19 has completely changed all of that.
A recent Gensler survey found that 12% of workers in the U.S. want to work from home full-time, while 70% would prefer to be in the office most of the week. In the U.K., other surveys suggest that around 44% of workers will ask their employers for permanent flexible working arrangements after COVID-19 restrictions are fully lifted. Whichever way you look at it, work culture is changing and will continue to change forever.
This shift obviously has huge implications for commercial real estate operators. Alongside the sizable logistical challenge of returning tenants to the workplace safely and efficiently, office owners now need to think about how they are going to handle this change long-term. They must ensure that they can be flexible with flexible work and solve one key challenge in particular: how to keep tenants loyal to their building.
Fundamentally, if tenants are happy with a workplace, employers are happy too; if individual workers feel loyalty to a workspace, employers do too. However, as tenants continue to spend less time working in their company office, building operators will now need to work twice as hard to earn that loyalty and keep their tenants happy.
We believe that this has to start with connection. If tenants only feel connected to a building when physically working in it, operators will struggle to build stickiness with tenants now operating flexible remote working policies. This is where technology is absolutely vital. Embracing a workplace app that keeps users feeling connected to their building — whether actually working from there or from their kitchen — is critical. Apps like this enable real-time communication with all users, regardless of location, keeping them connected to the building, the building operator and each other. Our Hilo network gives users access to exclusive curated offers and experiences, in and around their building community, whether they are at work or at home. These kinds of initiatives will ensure users always feel valued by their workplace and connected to it, wherever they happen to be.
Additionally, building operators must ensure that their tenants’ workplace experience is efficient, happy and meaningful. Communicating new safeguarding protocols before people arrive at the office; highlighting building events, experiences or giveaways or providing people with access to onsite and offsite retailers and businesses at the touch of a button are all ways that workplace apps can make the onsite experience meaningful and engaging. If users are spending less time in the building, they will place a much higher value on the time that they do spend there. It is therefore vital that operators ensure that time spent at an office building is both productive and enjoyable and that it provides users with something more than their time spent working at home. Operators that are able to curate this hospitality and experience-rich environment will be successful in generating longterm tenant loyalty in the new normal.
Historically, commercial real estate has not been known as an industry that embraces change and innovation. However, as corporate culture and individual working practices continue to evolve in light of COVID-19, operators find themselves needing to adapt, in order to ensure long-term tenant satisfaction and retention. If building operators are going to build the stickiness and loyalty to their buildings that they crave, it’s time to innovate. Technology undoubtedly holds the key. Workplace apps and smart building technologies allow operators to better connect with and serve whole workforces, whether tenants are in the office or working remotely, ensuring that their experience is frictionless, engaging and truly meaningful. As flexible working becomes the norm, technology can provide operators with the tools needed to be flexible with flexible work.