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The workplace is at a tipping point as firms look to hybrid long term

Employers can use remote working to everyone’s advantage by rethinking their long-term workforce strategies

The hybrid evolution continues apace and now offices are shrinking accordingly. Reports have emerged of companies paying large sums to exit commercial property rental leases – Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, recently paid €171 million to break the lease on London office space it never even moved into. What does this mean for the modern workplace?

This may seem dramatic but experts say organisations are simply beginning to think smartly about how their office space is used as they offer workers ever more flexibility.

Sarah Healy, founder and CEO of Tools for Better says we will probably continue to see companies reducing the size of their office space as the realisation dawns that work is “not about bricks and mortar”.

“This is a short-term cost impact for the likes of Meta but, long term, it is much more cost efficient to have your workforce work from home,” says Healy.


The reality is that technology has enabled a remote workforce. “It’s time that companies take inventory of the roles that absolutely do need an in-person presence,” adds Healy. “This is also an excellent time to reflect on and plan realistic long-term workforce strategies.”

Gillian Harford of the 30% Club believes we have reached a tipping point in terms of how we think about “the workplace” for the future.

“It is really a good opportunity for employers to start thinking about it in a different way because their employees are thinking about it in a different way,” she says.

For many industries the need for a physical workplace remains critical – consider research labs, food production and manufacturing. But Harford says employers in those sectors are thinking just as much about working in different ways as employers in sectors where the work is more desk based and has more flexibility in terms of when and how and where.

“The more progressive organisations are thinking about what we use physical workplaces for and what is the best time to use them,” she says. “We are starting to see conversations move on from how many days people are in the office to what are they going there to do exactly and how can we make that more productive and more effective.”

Harford is also unsurprised at a shift in office space demands from large organisations.

“If we are encouraging people back into a physical workplace we need to think about how it looks and feels. Is it set up for the type of work we want them to do? But of course there is realism about how much space they actually need for this purpose.”

Organisations are now realising that fully remote onboarding isn’t as effective, for example, and that the lack of “water cooler conversation” is a negative, says Mary Connaughton of CIPD. But she says employers need to start giving people good reasons to come back to the office, as well as being strategic in their outlook.

“Many companies are organising social lunches or a face to face with the CEO in a bid to encourage large volumes of workers into the office on the same days,” she says. “It’s about making the hybrid model smarter so that when employees are on site they are more productive and beneficial to the company rather than a binary choice of one or two days based on a mandate.

“This means that you get a lot of people on site one or two days a week so it’s not so much that the office space isn’t used but there are a small number of days where it’s really busy and other days when it’s nearly empty.

“We know of one company that decided to close its offices on a Friday because they felt from a sustainability perspective it didn’t make sense, given the cost of lighting and heating etc.”

Hot desking was growing in popularity even before the pandemic, Harford notes.

“Now you definitely aren’t going to leave a desk empty for 11 months while someone is on maternity leave; now organisations are much more clued in about the cost of empty space,” she says.

She sees companies as instead being focused on more interactive spaces for collaboration and learning and investing in better technology.

“Some training works really well in an e-learning space but other types of training need to be done in a physical place,” she says. “Similarly, some meetings work well as virtual calls whereas other meetings, particularly those that need creativity and brainstorming, work better in a physical place. It’s about matching work and place in the best way so that everyone gets the most benefit from it.”

For companies keen to ensure a collaborative and friendly “workplace”, Healy suggests organising team meet-ups in locations such as parks and cafes, or companies could also consider establishing social groups such as hiking or cinema clubs.

“There are so many options – it’s about being creative and getting your people involved in the solution,” she says.

Danielle Barron

Danielle Barron is a contributor to The Irish Times