The Wolf of Wall Street. When thinking about the corporate real estate crisis, you might also have those images of crowded office buildings in New York, full of employees working hard on their computers. Well, those times are gone.
Companies are currently facing a major consequence of our new vision of work: an increase in unused office spaces. CRE professionals struggle to sign contracts, and employers have difficulties filling their workspaces. To embrace this transition, understanding the rules of the new ways of working, adapting the office layout, and shifting priorities is crucial.
Do you belong to one of the numerous organizations that have empty office buildings half of the time? Are you wondering if you should just offer remote work options and close down your office space? Don’t! We will explain why keeping physical workspaces is important and what to do with the extra room.
When you think about it, the decrease in your office occupancy is proof of your willingness to embrace a modern approach to work and the “work from anywhere” concept. Instead of considering it a liability, it’s time to see it as an opportunity!
Unused office space: the causes of this corporate real estate crisis
Remote work opportunities
As the COVID-19 crisis started to be contained, most companies believed the time to return to the office had come. Well, this isn’t what happened in reality, at least for the majority of them. First, they recognized the benefits of letting their staff work from home. Second, remote work opportunities have become a top priority for employees and therefore a magnet for talent attraction and retention. While flexibility at work has brought plenty of advantages, it has a few downsides. A decrease in office occupancy is one of them.
The rise of digital transformation
Working online has become a norm for many industries and job positions, which gives one more reason for team members to want to work from home more often. Why would they come to the office every day if they can do their job just as well, or even better, remotely? Implementing digital transformation is a must for all sectors and businesses. Yet, this digital shift increases the chances of your workforce expecting to work from anywhere if they want to.
The change in office space utilization
The office has become a place to collaborate more than to work on individual tasks. Are half of your single desks empty, but your meeting rooms constantly full or even overbooked? There is a high chance this means your office space no longer matches the needs of your workforce. This could be a valid reason for your employees working off-site more often. The impact of office layout on productivity is also an aspect to consider. If your staff work better from home than at the office, why would they come on-site?
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Empty office buildings: the importance of keeping a physical workplace
In-person interactions are a core aspect for most workers
Hybrid work is so popular and successful because it answers all the needs of a modern workforce. It enables remote work opportunities while giving employees the chance to meet in person. An article from Fortune reveals that a full-remote work model increases loneliness by 67%. This is one of the reasons why, when looking at the hybrid workplace statistics, we realize people still want to come on-site from time to time. Around 72% of Millennials and Gen Z workers expect to experience this mix between real and virtual collaboration. Their main motivations are workplace connection, social interactions, inclusion, and engagement.
Not all employees want to work remotely
Acknowledging that some employees don’t like or can’t work from home is also important. Some people are more efficient and productive when surrounded by colleagues. Others don’t have the personal means to create a thriving work environment at home and prefer to come on-site. Moreover, although studies have shown that remote work boosts productivity, there is a minority for whom it doesn’t. Not leaving these team members behind is crucial to being supportive, enhancing employee centricity, answering the needs of all your workforce, and retaining your top talent.
Physical offices play a key role in enhancing the company’s culture
Organizational culture is a central pillar of every company. While maintaining a positive culture in a remote work environment is not impossible, it is more challenging when there is no physical workplace. The office boosts employee experience. It is a great place to share your values and your vision. It also brings people together and offers a space to interact, share knowledge, learn, create connections, and thrive. For example, in a “clan” culture promoting teamwork, having an office is crucial to enable workers to meet in person, have access to the equipment they need, and succeed as a team.
Unused office space: what to know before deciding on any change
The types of spaces that are unused
Before deciding on anything, you need to understand how your office building is used. For example, let’s say you provide parking slots to your staff. Check if they actually use them or if they come to the office by public transport, bike, or foot. If you’ve created an agile workspace with a variety of workspaces (which is great, by the way!), are they using a certain type of space more than the others? This will enable you to assess your employees’ needs, the best practices you have to employ, and the aspects you can improve. The deskbird office analytics feature helps you get all this information.
The size of your empty space
Are we talking about a quarter, half, or three-quarters of your office building that is unused? You might have the feeling your office is half empty, but it’s actually a lot more square meters than that. Here again, checking workplace analytics is key to having a real idea of how much space we are talking about. Knowing the exact number of square meters that are currently unused is essential to deciding what your best options are to optimize this extra room.
The current cost of this loss of space
One of the main reasons why we are talking about the increase in unexploited office space is because it has become a true issue for companies, especially from a financial point of view. But do you know how much you really spend on this empty space? Do the numbers, and you’ll probably be surprised. To have a quick idea, use our hybrid office calculator and discover how much you could save by optimizing your workspace according to your actual needs.
Office space utilization: the three steps to tackle this modern world issue
Step 1: make your office attractive again
Having a decrease in workplace occupancy is normal when introducing flexible work arrangements. Yet, wanting to see your staff on-site more often when you’re paying for an office space is also normal. So, what can you do? First, redesign the office layout and make it more agile so people enjoy coming on-site and are as satisfied with the corporate work environment as at home. Remote work boosts work-life balance and productivity. Make sure to build a workspace that provides your team members with everything they need, enhances employee well-being, and makes them thrive.
Step 2: repurpose the extra room with those employee-centric ideas
Employee centricity is the future of work and the core element that differentiates attractive and successful companies from others. For this reason, the idea of repurposing these empty spaces to improve your employee experience is a great solution to boost this aspect. For instance, you can:
initiate a childcare center;
dedicate a specific room to sports and well-being practices;
create a coffee corner;
have team bonding activities areas;
open a learning and training facility;
Step 3: turn this liability into a real estate asset
If you’ve already done everything mentioned above, there is one last solution to turn this loss of space into something positive. You can transform what seems to be a liability into a real estate asset. For example, you can set up a hot desking system for your empty workspaces and make those unused desks and meeting rooms available for other companies. You can also rearrange your office to free up a full floor or an area big enough so that you can sublease it to external businesses (in agreement with the owner of the building). Small startups are looking for cheap renting opportunities, so it’s a win-win for all!
We hope this article helps you get better value out of your unused office space and gives you some ideas on how to turn this liability into an asset for your business. Whether you decide to transform this extra space to create new people-centric areas for your staff or to use it as a new source of income, the end result can only be positive.
Do you need help with managing your hybrid workspace and teams? Start a free trial of the deskbird app to discover how our user-friendly features enable you and your employees to make the most of flexible work!
Paulyne is a hybrid work specialist, who writes about sustainability, flexible work models and employee experience.