COVID-19 has ushered in an era of hybrid work that blends remote work with in-office work—and with it, an opportunity for higher education leaders to rethink their real estate portfolios. As widespread access to the vaccine enables more of your employees to return to work, your college or university is probably considering what’s next for your workplaces.
So, how can you welcome more employees back, while pivoting to support a workforce eager to toggle between working from home or coming into the office for in-person collaboration? How can you leverage the existing administrative footprint to meet intense cost pressures, while providing the flexible, tech-enabled workplaces that inspire campus employees?
Considering that approximately 30% of campus space is typically devoted to administrative use, how you answer these questions can affect not just day-to-day business, but institutional real estate strategy, too. With fresh, informed thinking, your team can identify new ways to simultaneously unlock savings and improve employee experience.
First step? Understand the potential impacts of a hybrid workplace.
Why a hybrid workplace can be a win-win
During the great work-from-home experiment of 2020, many office workers proved to both their employers and themselves that they can be productive from anywhere. Now they desire a new model that includes both remote and in-office work.
JLL research found that most people would prefer to work remotely two days a week—but they also long to come back to the office to socialize, manage or support others, collaborate, and participate in training or skill-building programs.
Giving employees the hybrid workplace they crave can pay off in several ways, from helping attract and retain a dynamic, diverse workforce, to improving sustainability and reducing real estate costs through desk sharing. Purdue University, for example, adopted a remote work strategy that allowed them to significantly shrink their leased real estate, which derived significant savings to help fund interior modifications of their owned facilities to provide more space for collaborative work and other amenities.
5 keys to hybrid workplace success
When you’re ready to create a more flexible workplace, consider the following best practices:
1. Reassess who needs what space, when. To right-size for a hybrid workforce, get a fresh understanding of the types of work your people perform—and when. Not all jobs are alike, and some may lend themselves to high mobility while others may have requirements that require them to come in every day. Typically, most jobs can be clustered into four macro profiles, and surveys and focus groups can help determine what these are.
2. Incorporate data and analytics. Space utilization and occupancy data and analytics can help you quickly identify and address any low-hanging fruit, like downsizing leased administrative space. Data-driven facility assessments can also help evaluate the potential return on investment on simple adaptation efforts as well as more strategic investments.
3. Build a roadmap to adoption. Even though employees may be clamoring for hybrid work, it’s still a major cultural shift that must be navigated with care. As you create an implementation plan, you need to develop a change management program that helps you understand significant stakeholder concerns and provides a forum for discussing the change, while providing training on new ways of working.
4. Leverage connective technology for a healthier, more flexible work experience. In 2020, most organizations scrambled to support employees with anywhere/anytime collaboration tools. Now it’s time to structure a program for a post-COVID hybrid workplace.
That might mean tapping into a quality mobile app that enables employees to reserve workspaces, scan the cafe menu, request a facilities service, and other useful tools. You might also harness occupancy planning platforms to support health and safety standards.
How so? If you know 80% of the administrative staff will likely be on campus three days a week, for instance, then you can assign people to work zones—and automatically flag areas in need of extra janitorial attention.
5. Make it a multi-function process. How can you adjust the portfolio in a way that best supports financial as well as human experience goals and is easy to manage?
Solutions to these questions lie at the nexus of human factors, real estate and IT. By working in cooperation with the finance, real estate, IT and human resources leaders who can develop a comprehensive program that fully integrates people, space and technology.
By re-envisioning the administrative workspace on your campus, you can support your institution’s financial goals while creating great workplace experiences. Those are outcomes any campus leader can get behind.
Bob Hunt is managing director of public institutions at JLL and has more than 30 years of experience in portfolio planning, facilities planning, development advisory, public-private partnership (P3) formation, and real estate, information technology and human resources integration.