Orange County Partnership - News

Exploring the Changing Workforce Ecosystem

Global real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield recently released a report that examined what industry leaders expect their future workplaces to look like in a post-pandemic environment following the anticipated successful distribution of the COVID-19 vaccination later this year.


The report finds that although work at home employees have been productive, many are hoping to return to their offices soon. The report, performed in collaboration with George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis and Places Platform, LLC, a place-based national real estate proptech firm, found that instances of “work from home fatigue” are increasing.


The new report, “Workplace Ecosystems of the Future,” developed by Cushman & Wakefield’s global research team, includes focus group and survey insights from building owners with just under $900 billion in assets under management, building occupiers representing $574 billion in annual revenue, and business improvement district executive directors in major U.S. markets containing more than 350 million square feet of office space.


Based on the input from participants, Cushman & Wakefield noted, “One thing is clear: the purpose of the office workplace is changing. The pandemic-induced work from home (WFH) experiment has altered perspectives on work, flexibility and the office.”


As part of this report process, focus groups and interviews were conducted with 32 owners, occupiers and placemakers to get a 360-degree view on the future of the workplace. This was information that was then augmented with insights from Cushman & Wakefield Total Workplace consultants directly involved across hundreds of occupier clients and with data collected as part of the Experience per SFTM consulting tool. The conversations were focused on a future “post-COVID-19” world where a vaccine has become widely available and the direct pandemic health risks are low or non-existent. 


Among other findings, there is strong consensus among leaders that declines in workplace culture, innovation and creativity are inevitable when people work entirely remotely. Hybrid working, where employees spend part of the week working in the office and the other part working from home or in a third location, is expected to more than double going forward, while exclusively remote structures will remain the exception. In addition, the real estate industry is expected to become nimbler as tenants require greater flexibility in terms of space, amenities and leasing terms, the Cushman & Wakefield report stated.


“These testimonies and research findings provide further evidence that people still need a space to collaborate, innovate and stay connected – and the office provides that,” said David C. Smith, Global Head of Occupier Research at Cushman & Wakefield. “The pandemic has given us the opportunity to test remote work. Moving forward, occupiers will need to strike the right balance between remote and in-office work, and our research indicates a need for fundamental change in the culture and flexibility of the real estate industry in order to remain relevant in a post-pandemic environment.”


Other key findings include:


  • A mix of in-office and remote work options are likely to maximize employee and organizational performance.


  • Employees want choice and freedom in where they work, but few want to work outside the office exclusively.


  • There are clear downsides to this pandemic-induced work-from-home (WFH) period.


  • Office workers feel disconnected from corporate culture, personal wellbeing has suffered, and employees feel that they’ve had fewer opportunities to learn, especially through informal mentoring.


  • Lack of in-office work has a disproportionately negative impact on certain workers (e.g., young employees and new employees).


“From a real estate owner perspective, among the big themes articulated by participants was the belief that not only are the current dynamics temporary, but like in past recessions or other crises, most of what we do differently today will return to something closer to normalcy,” the report stated. “Several indicated that in the long run, the need for humans to be social and connect with each other will be a strong influence on a migration back to office environments. As one owner said, ‘People have really short memories. So, once this is finally over and there’s a vaccine, and people begin to feel safe again, I think that life is going to return to normal.’”


The report also noted that while the app Zoom and other online meeting applications have been invaluable during the pandemic, the technology has also been the source of what the report authors characterized as “meeting sprawl.”


“One of the byproducts of working from home is that the number of meetings I have to attend has gone up—and you just can’t pop in. People have to schedule a 30-minute meeting,” one focus group participant said. “I’m just worn out from being in meetings on camera all day.”


The report is the latest and third of Cushman & Wakefield’s four-part global research series exploring the impacts of COVID-19 on the future of office and the workplace, “New Perspective: From Pandemic to Performance.” Parts two and three are derived from Cushman & Wakefield’s own analysis of 5.5 million data points from workers around the globe.


Part 2’s retrospective analysis examined how we’ve come to rely on offices and the unlikeliness of the office to disappear, particularly given the types of economies likely to reemerge in a post-pandemic world. This includes the knowledge economy, which is a result of job growth in technology, science, design and professional services, and the experience economy, which includes tourism, sporting events and other live events.


The fourth and final part of the global research series will examine external factors shaping the future of work, including technological, political change, and economic drivers.


To access the full report, go to: