How to get workers back to the office is a problem exercising the best brains in the business, with responses ranging from demands to suggestions to enticements.

The demands from bosses to come back to the office – for at least a few days a week – are getting increasingly desperate and a bit shrill.

But a new workplace futures survey shows that improving working conditions and changing the office is the best way to repopulate the workplace.

The report from Hassell said that companies that did so in the post pandemic world have enjoyed a 17 per cent higher satisfaction score from employees.

The work surveyed 3500 workers from offices across the globe.

Named Great Adaptations, the research is the design practice’s fourth annual workplace futures survey, attracting 3500 office workers globally this year.

Key findings include that:

  • more people are working from the office this year, however, hybrid work remains stable
  • a vibrant city is ranked as the most desirable office amenity, with access to grocery stores, green spaces, and good coffee
  • people resist returning to the office during an economic downturn, despite employers having more leverage
  • people are calling for more cohesion between workplace policies and workplace designs

With more employees voluntarily returning to high-performing offices, Hassell senior researcher and author of the report, Dr Daniel Davis said the information would provide valuable insights into the current state of the workplace and what it would take to create the ideal hybrid office.

“Countries and cities, which have had the longest periods of dealing with pandemic-era lockdowns, including the US, UK and Melbourne in Australia, are home to the largest number of ‘reluctant returners’ — employees who prefer working from home over coming into the office,” Davis said.

“The report challenges some areas of emerging consensus — particularly that if you fear losing your job, you’d be in the office more to prove your value to your organisation, but across many regions worldwide, that’s not the case.”

The report also details the top features people want from their work, with preferences for convenience, proximity to public transport, wellbeing, grocery stores and green open spaces being key incentives for drawing individuals back to the office.

The top six most popular features are:

  1. free lunch and food
  2. gardens and green spaces
  3. good coffee
  4. fresh air
  5. good food and retail nearby
  6. enough space to focus without distractions

Dr Davis said the preference for free food and access to public transport aligns with employees’ desire to curb expenditure amid the rising cost of living and that an exemplary hybrid workplace would need to employ a range of strategies to cater to their workforce’s multifaceted needs and preferences.

“In this era of hybrid work, companies can’t afford to wait for economic conditions to change,” Davis said.

“They need to be getting the basics right — something that many offices fail to do — by providing the right spaces for collaborative and focused work. And they need to stack and aggregate a variety of amenities that address the unique requirements of different individuals and cultivate an atmosphere of inclusivity and engagement.”

And office vacancy is up

The survey aligns with the Property Council of Australia’s office market report findings, which reported a general increase in office vacancy rates and a reduction in demand for offices in the past year.

Australian office vacancy has increased from 13.4 per cent to 14.1 per cent over the six months to July 2023, with both CBD and non-CBD-based markets recording negative demands for offices.

Davis said the sector needed “a well-rounded array of offerings” that pave the way for an “enriched hybrid workplace experience that transcends conventional expectations.”

He said the report hoped to provide answers to creating a “great adaptation — a flexible workplace and an appealing culture and working environment.

“And while we can see a link between changes to offices and higher satisfaction, the most effective investments happen in tandem with updating policies to match new employee expectations.”

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  1. Why do those who see getting workers back to the office as a “problem” (commercial property industry, I’m talking to you) avoid discussing the REAL problem, the commute? Not only an environmental disaster but a time-waster and productivity-reducer.
    Here’s a thought… we have lots of vacant office space in our CBDs, AND we have a nationwide housing shortage, rental crisis and mortgage cliff. Hmmm… how much of that vacant office space could be retrofitted as apartments? Great way to capture embodied carbon!

  2. Remote work is the only sustainable solution that can benefit the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering energy consumption, benefitting all, the employee, the employer and the environment.

    Fewer vehicles on roads, no traffic jams, reduction in emissions from petrol-powered engines require lesser upkeep of infrastructure. Large offices consume a massive amount of energy. Remote working will reduce these as there will be fewer rooms to cool and light up, fewer seats to be heated with fewer employees in offices.

    In highly crowded areas, the transportation infrastructure falls short of the increasing demand for commuting vehicles. Those traffic jams during peak hours, the slow pace of vehicles results in even more gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Higher traffic damages the highways and streets, creating more demand for repairs and expansions.

    1. Exactly! Doing more with less is ideal. However we need to be mindful of the need to continue team work – maybe it’s smaller offices distributed throughout metro and regional areas. Especially in this business of journalism!

  3. Those are all valid reasons, I would change the ‘free lunch and food’ to ‘company card for all meals (flexible + income tax saving)’; gardens are great but most offices don’t have access to those, (my current office has decaying brick walls as a view and the interiors are no better); ‘good coffee’ is subjective, (personally I believe if you aren’t getting fresh beans from a local roastery you’re probably not enjoying good coffee), but too many bosses are living in the stone age and think ‘good coffee’ means a plastic pod of stale grounds or a tin of instant burnt offerings; fresh air — you can should get to that yourself, regularly but operable windows are pretty essential; space to focus without distractions (and I have to add no micromanaging bosses here, since that toxic game is one of the key reasons for employees not wanting to return).