There’s a burning question among Canadians and the larger global workforce: When will we go back to the office?
As a commercial real estate (CRE) professional with years of global asset management experience, I wish I had all the answers. Unfortunately, since return to office (RTO) dates for the majority of Canadian companies are tied to vaccination rates and the eventual decline in COVID-19 cases, there is only one thing that remains certain at this point in time. When Canadians step foot in the workplace again, it won’t be the same workplace that they left back in March 2020.
As of right now, I can’t tell you when the majority of the workforce will return — or when our routines will feel normal again — but I can talk about how Canadians will return to the office, what the future of the workplace may look like, and the impact that technology will have on RTO strategies across the nation. This impact will prove to be quite significant and evolutionary as it shapes workplace standards for the foreseeable future.
Challenges to the Canadian Market
Canadians have been working remotely for so long now, that many have grown accustomed to their changed daily routines. We’ve all benefited from the flexibility, reduced commuting times, enhanced sense of work-life balance, and personal autonomy that came out of working from home. We have become masters in our crafts, all while sitting in our pajamas in our living rooms. Many have enjoyed this new way of working, and some have even recreated their own version of a corporate culture from home. Some have enjoyed their new work environment so much that in a recent study conducted by Angus Reid Institute, over 50% of young professionals stated they would reconsider their employment if their work demanded that they return to the office full-time.
These sentiments have forced Canadian landlords, employers, and property teams everywhere to address the elephant in the room: Why should the workforce return to the office when a large portion of them enjoy the work-from-home routines they have cultivated over the past year?
The answer, although much more complicated and intricate, boils down to a few simple concepts: value, engagement, and humanity’s need for social interaction. This means that in order to entice people back to the workplace, property teams need to compete with the home office by investing in experiences that bring new meaning to tenants and their employees. For some, all it takes is supporting and highlighting the intrinsic value drivers about a physical workplace. In another study conducted by The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), findings reveal that many employees miss the more intangible elements of the office:
- 61% of respondents miss in-person conversations
- 42% miss the daily structure of reporting to the workplace
- 40% miss lunches and happy hours
- 37% miss reduced interruptions that are present while working at home
This supports what we’re currently seeing across the globe. Instead of forcing employees to come back to the office 100% of the time, many companies are offering a hybrid work model that allows employees to take advantage of the more social and collaborative aspects of the workplace. It also allows them to work remotely throughout the week to create a more balanced schedule, integrated with flexibility, for those who thrive in different environments. Additionally, companies are investing heavily in hospitable, consumer-first experiences to create extra conveniences and best-in-class amenities that encourage employees to use their properties in-person.
Of course, such strategies are easier said than done. Property technology — often referred to as “proptech” — is relatively new to the Canadian market and has grown exponentially in the past few years. The acceleration of technological advancement and adoption rates across Canada makes these technologies a necessary staple for both short- and long-term RTO solutions. Ultimately, they give property teams a competitive advantage during very challenging times by ensuring that the future of the office is safer, more engaging, and frictionless.
Next, let’s look at how proptech is already being applied to modern office communities to foster and support modern workplaces.
Technology is Key
In today’s world, the not-so-secret weapon fueling successful property and asset management teams is technology. In Canada, we’re already seeing technology facilitating the rejuvenation of local businesses and beloved neighbourhood restaurants, all while connecting these retailers to the workplace and the tenants within. But how exactly is this shift happening?
Though technology enablement has been present in the retail and hospitality industries for a while, the CRE industry has remained antiquated for quite some time. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated trends that supported people’s safety and health, including a plethora of digital communication tools and touchless technologies. These tools not only ensure that employees remain productive while at home, but also aid in RTO planning through digital features like capacity management, direct landlord-tenant communication, emergency alerts, and easily accessible amenity and service booking tools that building communities can safely engage with from their phones.
At the same time, certain technologies — specifically tenant experience platforms — can achieve all of the above and more. Unique capabilities like digital programming and connected retail services can be activated to make the workplace even more modern, efficient, engaging, and supportive of employee needs.
The aforementioned experiences and actions are already integrated in our everyday lives. Automating our days by placing a pre-saved coffee order from our favourite local café, quickly accessing and controlling home utilities, discovering movies and music that bring us joy, and so many other personalized automations have been possible for years.
Therefore, when you bring those same digital-to-physical conveniences into the workplace, technology becomes a competitive edge. Not only are modern tenants and employees seeking out these familiar efficiencies, but so are local and on-site retailers who are looking to tap into revenue streams that were previously inaccessible before the pandemic through building technology platforms and office tenants.
With so many uncertainties in the world, we can be confident in a single truth: the traditional, non-technologically advanced workplace is a distant memory. Instead, the future of the workplace resides in its design. Offices must be prepared to evolve and support seamless connections to their end-users, the surrounding neighbourhood, and everyone in-between. The glue holding these experiences together will be technology, serving as an easy-to-use remote control for your building that will bring every stakeholder value for years to come.
For more information on how you can provide endless opportunities for your building community, as well as connect your tenants to the new version of the workplace in ways that were once thought to be impossible, schedule a consultation today.