We asked more than 500 senior executives what they were most looking forward to when they return to the office, a staggering 28% of them said “Nothing.” Many said that they simply find their work environment unmotivating and can work better at home.

After a year of WFH, many people are genuinely worried about returning to their offices. They feel a real sense of dread and anxiety about wasting hours in traffic, or on crowded public transport, paying for overpriced lunches and not spending enough quality time with their families.

But for how long will employers remain flexible?

Very soon I suspect many will start to demand that people return - and quickly. David Solomon, the Goldman Sachs CEO, called remote work, “an aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible.” And Amazon told its employees that it expected, “to return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”. Office-centric – now that is an interesting way to define your culture.

Some employers are actively preaching the gospel of flexibility – being overtly receptive to concerns and appreciating that the free time given by the pandemic is something their employees are simply unwilling to relinquish

Not wanting to lose great people, some companies have spent the past year trying out different models, to figure out which one works best.

Whether that's allowing a hybrid of WFH and in-office work, or treating the office as a clubhouse where you gather for specific reasons, there are lots of innovative ways to approach this transition that keep both employee preferences and productivity in mind.

But most organizations still seem to be struggling with what will actually work best. There is however a rare opportunity to rethink formerly rigid conceptions of what an ‘office-centric’ culture should be.

There is no doubt that for some people, return-to-office anxiety is real.

It is important that businesses take steps to support their staff to feel safe when returning to work.

Avoiding a knee-jerk approach to reopening and strictly dictating when employees come back, and on what terms, might just be the safest option for everyone.

Lorri Lowe
Partner, UK

We met with Tanya Kosseva-Boshova, Managing Partner of Park Lane Developments, part of AG Capital.

Tanya is also the Chair of the Association of Commercial Building Owners in Bulgaria, a member of the RICS, and Chair of the Ladies Forum - a not-for-profit organization of professional women in Bulgaria.

More than a year has passed since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic. What kind of approaches have been implemented by organizations around the globe to tackle various issues related to the workplace and the working process?

Many organizations have implemented a hybrid approach – working from home for 1-2 days as opposed to 3-4 days in an office setting. This model has provided the employers with the opportunity to exercise the precautionary distance anti-COVID measures while also ensuring a better work-life balance for the employees. The hybrid model is certainly not a novelty and was adopted by many companies in the technological sector years ago.

Some companies (predominantly based in the US) have decided to limit the availability of office spaces in order to prevent further spread of the virus. Personally, I believe that this approach is rather extreme and, in the long term, it could cause several serious organizational problems related to hiring, training, and retaining key employees, as well as inducing emotional fatigue.

With the notable exception of call centers, many large organizations that have shown growth both before and during the pandemic are progressively shifting towards more spacious offices. The reasons for the latter include, but are not limited to, the pandemic situation – and this tendency is in line with the general goal of modern companies to induce a positive office experience and comfort at the workplace.

The majority of tenants are companies that seek a new office building with quality ventilation and air filtration systems. For example, in our Park Lane Office Center building, we have installed specialized UV lamps inside the ventilation systems in order to ensure that the majority of virus and bacterial pathogens are neutralized (99%).

What are the most important takeaways for employers in connection with the 'new working process'?

I believe that the office space is being recognized as aspect of great importance for an organization, given that it signifies the physical representation of the company – its culture, its spirit and its mission. There was a time when our employees operated mainly from home, but I believe that it is particularly unhealthy for a company to exist in such a way in the long term. Working from home is certainly not ideal for everyone – people need face-to-face informal communication. Precisely these instances of spontaneous verbal interactions are often the source of brilliant ideas and unexpected synergies.

The claim that employees constitute the most valuable asset of an organization seems more viable than ever – human communication and creativity cannot be substituted with artificial intelligence, however advanced it may be.

What are the most noteworthy consequences (positive or negative) that companies have experienced during this period of working from home?

The evident increase in short-term productivity that many organizations boast about is a direct result of existing structures and teams. Before the pandemic, these teams had the chance to communicate in an informal office setting. This is the way a working relationship is best developed – in person. In the long run, it is expected that employee productivity will decrease as a result of the increased workforce “burnout”.

I believe that working from home also has a negative impact on decision-making agility – managers grow tired of the increasing number of the often unproductive calls and interruptions due to technical difficulties.

One positive result of working from home for some is the significantly reduced traveling time, but in our region commuting is significantly faster, as compared to some regions and city clusters, so the positive office experience of our employees outweighs their traveling inconvenience.

Recent studies have shown that junior employees are the most adversely affected by the work-from-home paradigm, due to their limited access to mentors and more experienced colleagues. As a result, their career growth process is hindered.

On another note, a different study has suggested that working mothers have been seriously impacted by the pandemic – one in four mothers is forced to make a compromise with their career in order to be able to look after their children at home. This seems like a major setback for the career advancement of women and would counteract many recent measures to enhance the gender balance in the workplace.

What particular office space usage tendencies can be observed lately? How are the needs and demands of the organizations evolving?

The tendencies that are evident in the office space construction sector have been steadily developing in companies that endeavour to attract quality workforce – highly paid, educated, and demanding. The organizations that are most interested in office spaces in Bulgaria mainly deal with IT, finance, and trade. They have been requesting increasingly cozy, modern, and spacious offices for their employees.

The preference disparity between building classes A and B is becoming even more evident. Many of the potential tenants in the Park Lane Office Center have expressed their desire to transfer to a high-end building situated at a more accessible location. These companies need to find a way to reattract their employees back to the office and they cannot tolerate any compromise when it comes to the quality of the facilities.

What will the workplace of the future look like, in your opinion?

The workplace of the future will be a hybrid one. Employees will have the opportunity to choose whether they would like to work from home, the office, or shared office spaces. Office spaces that resemble the cozy atmosphere of one’s home and provide many new experiences to their inhabitants will dramatically rise in popularity. The needs and demands of the employees will be the primary drivers behind the design and space management of these office spaces. The office will be divided between several autonomous sub-spaces – for work, collaboration, video calls, entertainment, dining, sport, etc. The corresponding effects will be an increase in productivity and employee satisfaction, complemented by relative ease in hiring and retaining employees.

Nevena Nikolova
Partner, Bulgaria

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