How flexible work technology can transform your reopened office

As organizations reopen physical offices, employees are bringing new expectations for flexible work. Here’s how JLL, a leading professional services firm focusing on real estate, centers employee experience with a transformational technology strategy.

ARTICLE | 5m read
March 4, 2021

The ideal of flexible work is empowered employees being productive from anywhere, and the last year has proven that many office jobs can be done just as well at home. But even in this new normal of remote work, a clear majority of employees long for shared offices. Professional services firm focusing on real estate, JLL learned 7 out of 10 employees find the office environment is better for collaborating to solve complex issues, managing direct reports, and connecting with leadership.

In short, organizations will need to prioritize flexibility in where and how employees get work done. According to Sanjay Rishi, Americas CEO at JLL, it’s time for organizations to be bold in how they prioritize digital transformation, embrace distributed work models, and create an exceptional work experience. In this interview, Rishi described his lessons from 2020 and how companies can shape their “next normal” with flexible work technology.

How the rise of flexible work has changed the role of the shared office

Q: How has the pandemic changed the way you approach the workplace experience?

Rishi: When Covid-19 began wreaking havoc on traditional workplace models, many people asked when we might get back to normal. We see this moment as an opportunity to make things better than normal, to shape the workplace experience with the best trends that were accelerated this past year—as well as the new perceptions no one saw coming. As we envision a new and improved human experience at work, many of the ways forward include well-established workplace strategies like flexible work programs, digital transformation, and health and wellness amenities.

What is new is how we collectively conceive of work. Since the pandemic struck, employers and employees alike have been forced to rethink how, when, and where we work—leading to the meaningful realization that work is no longer somewhere you go, but something you do. Flexible work is here to stay. Yet at the same time, the physical office is becoming ever more vital in its evolving function as a hub for in-person collaboration and innovation, while also a haven for concentrated work as well.  

Q: Talk more about your vision for the shared office. How do you see physical office space embracing those flexible work strategies?

Rishi: Experience is at the center of the rapidly emerging post pandemic workplace. The trend toward hybrid work ecosystems will only increase, with workplaces acting as collaboration spaces and centers of innovation. They will also provide employees with opportunities for social interaction and engagement, learning and team-building activities. This promising new approach will help organizations ‘win back office employees’ by leaving behind the workplace-centric approach of yesteryear and embracing the worker-centric world that’s dawning.

EXPERIENCE IS AT THE CENTER OF THE RAPIDLY EMERGING POST PANDEMIC WORKPLACE.

Sanjay Rishi
Americas CEO
JLL

Putting employee experience at the center of workplace design

Q: How can organizations embrace the “worker-centric world” and put what employee's care about most at the center of design thinking?

Rishi: By investing in a workplace experience that puts people first, organizations earn the loyalty and inspired performance of their greatest resource: their people. By leveraging workplace technology, data, and analytics, organizations can redefine spaces to not only meet health and safety guidelines, but also provide better workplace experiences. For example, data from occupancy sensors can help meet COVID-related health concerns by identifying collision hot spots and tracking cleaning protocol. It can also help reconfigure office layouts to meet employee preferences around privacy, concentration, noise, and other concerns.

Q: So health and wellbeing will be crucial to reopened offices?

Rishi: Absolutely. Employee-centric workplace design must also consider the shadow pandemic looming over the workforce. Organizations need to recognize and act upon the unquantifiable mental health effects of the COVID-19 crisis. In one of our recent surveys we found that office tenants now expect buildings to be focused on health and well-being. This means healthy, peace-of-mind elements like improved air filtration systems, contactless security, and natural light will become musts, not nice-to-haves, for many office tenants. Private terraces and amenity areas where people can relax or exercise are also key to employee-centric design.

Digital transformation and the office of the future

Q: How do you see technology and data transforming the office of the future, especially concerning employee experience?

Rishi: Looking ahead, technology will be the dominant enabler of solutions that enhance both employee and workplace performance and productivity. Transformational technology strategy can maximize the human experience by supporting an anytime/anywhere work ethos, while driving collaboration and connectivity. At the same time, it can optimize portfolio ROI and efficiency by unlocking data-driven insights to streamline operations and increase the utilization and experience of any given space.

In the short term, technology and data can support the employee experience by facilitating remote working and ensuring well-being on their return to office buildings. In the longer term, tech-heavy smart office buildings will be the big winners, both in terms of corporate sustainability goals and employee wellness. Space utilization data, drawn from advanced sensors and machine vision cameras, can help companies shape office layouts to better support employee workflows and experience. Meanwhile, employee-facing apps can leverage AI and machine learning to help build trust and confidence in the workplace.

Q: As we close, how can organizations learn from their work environments to proactively plan future office requirements and empower employees?

Rishi: Sophisticated occupancy data and space utilization technology will help companies anticipate the ideal size and location of the future workplace. With real-time monitoring and work order management, companies can more easily prioritize data-driven building operations. They can facilitate hybrid work, empowering and engaging employees wherever they work with connective technologies, and manage dynamic occupancy planning.

THE BEST WAY TO LEARN FROM THE WORKSPACE ISN’T JUST TO CRUNCH THE NUMBERS. IT’S TO CONSIDER THE HUMAN IMPLICATIONS OF ANY DATA SET.

Sanjay Rishi
Americas CEO
JLL

But the best way to learn from the workspace isn’t just to crunch the numbers. It’s to consider the human implications of any data set. How are humans performing their tasks, and where and when are they working? What do employees value in a workplace, and how does that translate to performance? Empowered by technology and with positive human experience as the goal, we have an opportunity to shape the world of work for the better. For bold, strategic firms, this will be a year to lean into new workforce preferences—embracing distributed work models and giving employees a safe, productive, and seamless experience wherever they may work.

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