Getting teleworkers back into the office: an impossible equation?

February 2024

What if the hybridization of work turns out to be more complex than expected? The media never ceases to report on the difficulties companies face in getting their employees back to the office, a problem at the crossroads of numerous organizational, managerial, environmental and societal issues.

By Nicolas Cochard, R&D Director and Marc Bertier, Workplace Expert, Kardham, published in Entreprendre.

At the end of September, the French National Association of Human Resources Directors (ANDRH) reported that 36% of HR directors had recently negotiated or would shortly be opening negotiations on teleworking*. For companies, implementing a return to the office therefore seemed an inextricable subject, given the numerous injunctions. First of all, they had to promote collaborative working in an increasingly individualized context, with organizations now faced with a multitude of teleworker profiles, whether employees or managers. Hybridization of work must therefore be considered on an à la carte basis, with user experience taking precedence, bearing in mind that the behavior over time of this non-homogeneous population of teleworkers varies according to various personal factors: seniority in the company, family configuration, type of accommodation, distance from the workplace, etc.

What's more, if the hybrid employee works on average half his or her time away from the office**, this also means that he or she is more mobile than before when in the office, reflecting a diversification of workspaces within the company itself. When workers come to the office, they don't come for the same reasons and, above all, they adopt several working postures in the course of a single day. So, while the space needs to be more collaborative when they're on site, because they have a greater need to reconnect with their various colleagues, we're also seeing a broadening of the typologies of workspaces within companies: it's now possible to work alone in a quiet library-type space, in a team base camp or even in a communal workcafé-type space, with remote exchanges and group sessions taking place in ad-hoc spaces. Generally speaking, the number of small, enclosed spaces has increased by over 50%***. Likewise, meeting rooms are being re-sized to better suit practical needs (fewer large rooms, more small ones). Mixed social/work spaces are increasingly common, taking up as much as 30% of the surface area in some cases****. Finally, in the most innovative projects, the boundaries between traditional space typologies are disappearing. Spaces become multi-purpose, following the needs of employees. For example, a room can be a place for concentration in the morning and a brainstorming area in the afternoon.

The different needs of hybrid working mean that companies have to come up with concrete, forward-looking solutions, and transform the workplace from a simple "storage" space for employees to a place of flow at the service of the experience. What counts now is not so much the number of employees assigned to a site as the quality of use of the spaces on offer. To facilitate this management, streamline occupancy and improve the employee experience, digital tools are used to declare presence and reserve spaces. This is what we call the smart workplace. These solutions can be used to plan different scenarios, while ensuring dynamic site monitoring. Our studies show that an average attendance rate of 70% over 5 days of the week*****, is both a realistic target and a significant improvement on the current average. In these scenarios, digital tools, and in particular predictive attendance algorithms, guarantee a maximum experience.

The crucial question for organizations, then, is how to optimize office occupancy while facing another challenge - that of attractiveness, due to the irregular frequency of office visits. The concentration of activity with peaks of presence on certain days, such as Tuesdays and Thursdays, creates dissatisfaction, while leaving the premises empty the rest of the time, and particularly on Fridays, to the point where some companies prefer to close all or part of their premises. Closing on Fridays also comes up against a number of injunctions. Environmental first of all: global approaches to the carbon cost of a commercial building show that, on average, 70% of a building's carbon cost is linked to its construction (over 50 years). Energy consumption accounts for only 30% of a building's overall carbon cost. Closing on Fridays saves only 3% of carbon emissions******. Then there are societal injunctions: closing offices on Fridays leaves neighborhoods empty, and calls into question the contribution of the office to local life. To reduce the isolation of the office from the city, initiatives are beginning to emerge here and there: as in the case of organizations that decide to give their employees access to the living areas of their premises on weekends for personal events. Or those who open up their premises to local life, turning them into a karaoke venue at weekends or hosting general meetings of co-owners.

As we can see, the hybridization of work is at the crossroads of many sometimes contradictory interests. For the employee, who sees many benefits: more freedom, more comfort, more balance. For managers, who are concerned about the impact on the team, while at the same time identifying solutions to make it work better. For organizations, caught between the need to strike a balance between teleworking policies and the rationalization of work environments. And, more generally, for society as a whole, as it considers the place of - unoccupied? - in the city.

**Au bureau sans bureau. L’obsoco : Observatoire du télétravail. IDHEAL et Actions Logement. Mai 2023.
***Benchmark Kardham
****Benchmark Kardham
*****In terms of safety capability
******R&D Kardham, Kateryna Kuzmenko.

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