A landmark survey shows flexible policies will endure post pandemic, pushing companies to reshape offices for a modern workforce.

The pandemic has spurred what’s been touted as the world’s largest remote-working experiment: A huge, randomised trial testing the notion that many jobs can be performed from couches and kitchen tables. In some ways it’s been a rousing success, with workers enjoying increased flexibility. At the same time, most people are clear that they miss the office. While exactly how the office-home balance will play out, one thing is for sure: companies and workers are unlikely to go back to the way things were.

A survey of 2,000 office workers in 10 countries showed a majority want to work remotely over two days a week on average, double from before the pandemic. And three quarters of employees want to continue working from home on a regular basis. This shift, experts say, hasn’t appeared out of thin air. Companies for years have mulled adapting policies to suit their modern workforce. While some firms took an early plunge, stress testing correlations between productivity and flexibility, the ongoing coronavirus crisis has pushed a broad swath of businesses to embrace home working. “Companies of all kinds are seizing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the office model and lean into workforce preferences,” says Marie Puybaraud, director of global research at JLL. Still, questions remain about what a permanent and wide-reaching change in working and living patterns means for the office, the bedrock of traditional work.

What happens to the office?

Investors and companies have been weighing what these work-life changes mean for the office buildings that large cities tend to revolve around. The JLL survey shows that while work will change, it doesn’t diminish the need for offices. Nearly three quarters of respondents still want the ability to come into an office, while 70 percent consider the office as the best place for team building and connecting with management. Almost half of employees expect offices to offer spaces to socialise.

“I’ve personally missed seeing my colleagues this year and working in a collaborative space, and I don’t really know anybody who feels differently,” Puybaraud says. “The office will still be an important part of the work-life mix. Interestingly, the new purpose which is emerging may require more square footage to facilitate this changing work pattern, not less.”

Companies are looking at how they should rethink and redesign their existing spaces to meet the new working patterns. And the concept of a “near office”– satellite workspaces close to areas people live – is emerging to help people find a better work-life balance.

How companies are lending support

The survey respondents said a good work-life balance is now more important than securing a comfortable salary. Widespread remote working is putting pressure on employers to provide for their people both in the office and their homes. Three out of four people said they expect employers to support their health, wellbeing and nutrition. A third are asking for a dedicated work-from-home allowance.

Some companies are already going the extra mile to make home working as comfortable as possible by delivering lunches, providing furniture and equipment, or offering cash allowances. Google and Shopify are among those offering such stipends. “Employers weren’t taking responsibility for remote workforces before the pandemic and their mind has totally opened to this new expectation of the workforce in order to keep top talent and maintain productivity,” says Flore Pradere, director of research at JLL.

This could help to combat burnout and isolation. “There is a huge focus on mental health, social and emotional wellbeing,” she says. “You feel empowered at working in your own home but you might feel like you’re losing a sense of belonging as well.”

The metrics that matter

In the new world of work, companies are hunting for fresh ways to measure productivity. In a corporate environment that places greater focus on people, the older tools no longer provide a complete picture. “It’s about human performance,” says Puybaraud. “Companies need to follow the morale of people before looking at how they work and which places they use most.”

This could mean more frequent employee satisfaction surveys to monitor the mood of staff and act on the results. By 2025, JLL predicts that all employers will continuously use such data to actively contribute to their staff’s quality of life. Puybaraud says: “Whether it’s a home working allowance, new perks, or a dispersed office footprint, the pandemic is a massive wake up call for companies that they have to care for their employees.”