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| 4 minutes read

Why Success With Hybrid Return-To-Work Requires a Strategic Approach

Hybrid work is here to stay. CBRE reports hybrid programs increased globally to 90% of all survey respondents. Yet issues related to hybrid work satisfaction abound; leaders and workers are not in sync, many policies do not reflect expectations or reality, and the argument that worksite flexibility sacrifices productivity is often cast as a (false) trade-off. 

Successful hybrid programs do exist, and in my experience, they are distinguished by a thoughtful approach to leader alignment and coordination along three critical axes.

  • Enterprise value creation and workforce productivity needs are defined and aligned for the post-pandemic reality.
  • Enterprise work culture reveals and rationalizes explicit expectations of both leaders and workers.
  • Physical space is reconfigured to accommodate work and cultural needs for this new hybrid reality.

Without a well-conceived plan that defines these key factors, low employee engagement and low real asset utilization will likely continue, hampering workforce attraction, retention, productivity, and real asset return on investment (ROI). 

Based on my 20+ years of experience in business consulting, here are three sequential steps that can guide companies to a reset for a successful post-pandemic workforce and a more optimized real estate portfolio.

1. What works for each setting (remote, hybrid, or onsite)? 

Recent research finds that 74% of U.S. firms plan on going hybrid (or have already). Yet, as of October 2023, only 28.2% of the U.S. workforce is hybrid, and 57% are still working on-site 100% of the time. Do all these roles need to be onsite full-time? Where (on-site, remote, or both) and how (group, individual, or both) is value being created? Do some teams need to work together more frequently? And what about early career and retiring workers? Does it make sense to optimize their time together for skills/knowledge transfer? Are there digital applications that can replace some of the perceived benefits of on-site interactions?

These key questions often are not discussed when hybrid-related policies are formed and announced. With all the technology created to support remote client interactions in past decades and broadened since the onset of the pandemic, I recommend examining how value creation will be achieved and supported going forward within your company. Leader alignment in these conversations is important, as it can allow you and your leadership team to speak with one voice and be united in strategy.

2. What is our workplace culture, and what environment will support it?

This might be the most important consideration because it touches on engagement, productivity, and retention/attrition—three key metrics that most leaders are measured against. Notably, there are gaps between what organizations want and what their policies convey. In my experience, this typically results in mismatched leader and worker expectations and behaviors, creating confusion and resentment across the workforce continuum. No parties, free meals, or gourmet coffee will be enough to convert a disconnected culture into a productive and positive one.

Work can be executed in alignment with the business model and still serve both business goals and worker satisfaction. To find this Goldilocks balance, I recommend formally assessing the current culture and your workforce needs (senior or junior, client-facing or back office, commuting or remote, etc.) to determine if recalibration of expectations or renewed emphasis on support is needed.

3. The physical office should support productivity and culture. What does the ideal physical/digital workplace look like?

CBRE’s 2023 report noted that global average office utilization (determined from badging, Wi-Fi/network use, and other data) decreased from 64% in Q2 2022 to 35% in the same period of 2023. They further reported that "36% of workstations go unused on a typical work day, and 29% are used less than three hours per day." Utilization like that can ruin ROI for any real estate portfolio.

These statistics are no surprise, considering we repeatedly see workplace design that does not support worker needs or foster desired work behaviors. I have found that office design frequently does not accommodate the need for focus, and it may lack adequate group spaces and supporting technology for collaborative work.

Workplace designers and strategists have been at this since well before the pandemic. Consider consulting and working with these experts in human environment design, as they can apply their unique processes and solutions to align environmental design with your company's strategic goals, workforce needs, and budgets.

I have found that the most successful hybrid programs offer flexibility to employees guided by a thorough understanding of the company’s mission, business model, and culture. With such foundational knowledge, logical and defensible return-to-office policies can be created and supported by office design that sustains not only hybrid but all working styles and needs. Such preparation can also support the calibrated investment (subscription required) in tools and training to help ensure the successful execution of any role (worker or manager) in hybrid situations. 

How can you get started?

Reassess your value creation model in the post-pandemic world, and map those changes to your current workforce roles and processes. Determine desired behaviors from your workforce and develop space solutions and remote work policies that will stimulate those behaviors. Survey your team on their needs and preferences and adjust your current space format and workforce supply.

Last but not least, clearly communicate during the whole process so that the investment in redesigned space and its potential benefits are understood, and everyone on your team is aligned on the desired outcome. The goal is to develop a workplace strategy that is clearly defined and thoughtfully balanced to the needs and goals of both business and workforce. 

I operate with the assumption that all workers and managers want their companies to succeed. When you communicate the strategic justifications for space changes and hybrid schedules, you can benefit from improved productivity and real asset ROI.

Note:  Jack Weber, IIDA, LEED AP, MCR, SVP  / Workplace Strategist at Gresham Smith Nashville, TN contributed to this article.

© Copyright 2024. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of Ankura Consulting Group, LLC., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals. Ankura is not a law firm and cannot provide legal advice.


article, f-strategy, f-performance, turnaround & restructuring, strategy, operations, real estate, real estate advisory

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