Growing WFH fatigue, workers want office life back — survey

More employees want their office life back with lesser number of workers feel productive at home than in the office because of growing signs of fatigue with homeworking a year into the pandemic, a study revealed.

A survey by property management and consultancy services firm JLL on 3,300 employees conducted in March showed that people want to work from home 1.5 days a week. This was down from 2 days in a similar JLL survey conducted last April.

The survey also showed that only 37 percent of the workforce now feels more productive at home than in the office, as opposed to 48 percent last year. And while 88 percent of respondents still want to choose their working hours, a third do not want to work from home at all.

In response to shifting sentiments, the JLL study said that companies are trying to bring people back to the office to help spur the kind of innovative and collaborative thinking that happens in person, while keeping schedules loose. 

Even though the majority want flexibility in choosing when and where they work, a growing part of the workforce doesn’t want to work from home at all in the future, according to the JLL survey.

“While working from home extensively, people feel stuck in an ‘endless day’ and they are losing the notion of time,” said Flore Pradere, Research Director, Global Corporate Research, JLL. “Employees are aspiring to more balanced working patterns.”

“Although the work from home experiment during COVID was deemed successful, the long term mental health implications are still being understood,” said Cynthia Kantor, Chief Product Officer, Corporate Solutions, JLL. “What is clear is that over 75 percent of workers have missed being in the office at least part of the time and close to 80 percent of our clients prefer a hybrid approach. This is a very dynamic situation, and we are prepared to support our clients in any model they choose.”

The sweet spot for feeling engaged, empowered and fulfilled – at least for most surveyed office workers – is working from the office at a minimum of three days per week. The survey showed that if employees are working from home more than two days a week, engagement starts to taper off, and anxiety about the future can start to increase.

“Achieving productivity at home is a tricky challenge,” Pradere said. “Highly productive homeworkers demand support and recognition.”

As this developed, offices have become social hubs and will need to transform to enable hybrid work.

In its latest quarterly market overview webinar, real estate consultancy firm JLL Philippines shared that office vacancy in Metro Manila rose to 14.7 percent in Q1 2021 due to continuous move-outs, pre-terminations, downsizing, and softening of demand. 

Despite this pandemic-induced impact, JLL remains optimistic that the office will remain relevant, and the net impact on space usage and real estate footprint will be relatively minor. Dr. Marie Puybaraud, JLL’s Global Head of Research, said that while the current demand for office space has softened, the new purpose of the office has transformed to support the working life of employees: to preserve their engagement, emotional well-being, and mental health. 

“More than ever, offices will now have a starring role in the future of work as they attract talent and

help define and exemplify company brand and purpose,” she explained during the webinar. “The office will remain the center of the work ecosystem. A physical office reinforces culture, drives collaboration and innovation, enables professional growth and brings a company’s best to its clients and employees.”

JLL's survey has found that many employees globally want to be given flexibility in choosing when and where they do their jobs, as working from home for an extended period makes them feel disenchanted.

Data revealed that nearly 48% feel under pressure and exhausted by a massive workload, and 49% are overwhelmed by a huge mental load. 

“Employees need a minimum of three days per week of working from the office to feel engaged, empowered and fulfilled,” explained Puybaraud. The survey further showed that if employees are working from home for more than two days a week, engagement starts to taper off, and anxiety about the future can start to increase.

“There is a profound need to return to a social hub—the office will play a crucial role in driving social interaction. It is becoming a hub for collaboration, problem solving, and career development,” she said.

The study also showed that only 10 percent want to work exclusively from home, 24 percent exclusively from an office, 40 percent from a third-party space (such as in a café, co-working facility), and 66 percent hybrid. 88% of the workforce would like more flexible working hours in the future, compared with 71 percent a year ago. 

JLL said that the future of work, facilitated by technology, enables hybrid models —a flexible way of working that allows work from office, home, and anywhere. According to Puybaraud, hybrid work has a durable presence. Most companies have already embraced mobility or flexibility ahead of the pandemic.

Hybrid models have typically been the starting point for return-to-office, ahead of local guidelines allowing for full percent capacity. A hybrid workplace describes an organizational business model that accommodates flexibility for the workforce to be physically present in a corporate office or to work remotely (from home−or third places− all enabled by technology).

“More important than the physical place of work is the ‘future of work continuum,’” explained Puybaraud. “Hybrid requires not only physical transformation of the workplace but also a change in management strategy that is continuously adapting to new ways of working. It requires deep-rooted changes and an always-on transformation.”

Enabled by technology, the integrated future of work model allows organizations to shift and mix different solutions to ensure work productivity, a fulfilled and empowered workforce that can work from anywhere, and a real estate portfolio optimized to meet variable demand.

“Although hybrid is an appealing model, particularly for employees, it may not be suitable for all organizations and it might have to be adopted at different degrees of intensity. Notably, we must look at hybrid in the context of a future of work continuum,” she said. 

According to Christophe Vicic, JLL Philippines’ Country Head, the hybrid work model is worker-centric. “Enhancing the human experience can drive better performance. To truly dive transformation in the future of work - whether that is in the office, at home, or anywhere - we need technology and digital enablement with the people, the workforce at its center.”

Vicic adds that one key point to having a hybrid office set up is that while meeting deadlines are crucial, employers should give more emphasis on the outcome of work rather than the amount of time it has taken an employee to accomplish a task or a project.

Puybaraud said that while some organizations that want to shift to hybrid may already have the space, majority do not. 

Historically, the workplace allocates majority of its area to individual spaces, but JLL says the future of office will be about collaboration and socialization. New workplace investments will be required to enhance the human experience to support the working life of employees, and in turn, drive their performance.

Some of the top spaces to boost employee experience are for socialization (coffee/tea areas, lounges), focusing on work (concentration pods, focus rooms), connecting with nature, learning and development, creativity (innovation labs, fab labs), collaboration (project rooms), and shared community interests.

"Corporate occupiers must embrace the future of work through hybrid for greater resiliency.

Universally, whatever the enterprise, there should be a new focus: always-on transformation leading to always-on resiliency," she concluded.