Hub-And-Spoke Panned, Return To Office Embraced: How 1,200 Bisnow Readers Responded To Survey On Work
The coronavirus pandemic has spurred commercial real estate professionals to change their tune about working remotely, with some recognizing for the first time the productivity it allows and many valuing the flexibility that comes with it, but access to the office remains a high priority for many.
Bisnow surveyed 1,200 commercial real estate professionals about their own preferences to gauge how people feel about returning to the office, how ideas around company culture have evolved and what working life could look like in the future.
The largest share of respondents — 45.8% — said they think employees should be allowed to work from home multiple days a week even after the pandemic is over.
Prior to the pandemic, working from home was not the norm for most CRE professionals.
About 48.2% of survey respondents said that pre-pandemic, they never worked from home. Another 21.6% said they worked from home one day a month, and 13% said more than once a week. Only 9.2% said they worked from home full time.
The pandemic has caused a significant shift in industry attitudes toward remote work. The largest group of respondents, or 34.7%, said they used to think working in an office was crucial, but now see the value of working from home at least part time. Conversely, 14.8% of respondents said that working from home used to hold appeal, but after a year of being forced to work from home, they see the value of being in an office.
Colliers International Vice President Claire Roberts told Bisnow that although she personally prefers to work out of a corporate office for the sake of efficiency, she appreciates how increasing flexibility will benefit workers, particularly parents.
“Employers are going to have to have a kinder, gentler way of handling their employees if there's a sick child, or if there's school things that require the parent be in attendance,” said Roberts, who is based in Minneapolis.
Roberts’ children are now grown, but she remembers the difficulty of her early CRE career. Employers were less flexible then, and Roberts found it challenging to juggle both her children and her work. The limited upside of the pandemic is that now there is greater acceptance for working from home and nontraditional working hours.
“I think I appreciate the flexibility for other people more than really for myself. But I think it's nice that … corporate America can be more understanding and embracing of the fact that people have personal lives, too,” Roberts said.
The largest share of CRE professionals who answered the survey said that employees should be allowed to work from home multiple days a week. Another 24.7% said it should be once a week, while 11.4% said it should be every day. Only 8.3% said it should be once a month, while 9.8% said that employees should never be allowed to work from home.
Right now, most CRE professionals are still working from home. At the time of the survey, which was conducted between March 8 and 19, 52.4% of respondents said they work from home every day. Another 18.8% said they work from home multiple days a week, while 9.2% said they work from home one day a week. Just over 10% said they are going into an office every day.
MGA Managing Partner Adam Collins told Bisnow that like many of his peers, he rarely worked from home before the pandemic. When lockdowns kicked in, he worked from home for about three months, which coincided with his company’s move to a new office. He said that at first, he was productive at home, but it became more difficult over time.
“I was fairly productive, and then towards the summer, it got to be more difficult to stay productive, and to feel like I was advancing in my career, in my relationships with other co-workers,” Collins said. “So I got very excited about the idea of coming back to the office, and just having a separate place to focus.”
Collins returned to his Washington, D.C., office in late June and has continued to work there the majority of the time. Like Roberts, he doesn’t plan to regularly work from home, but he said the flexibility would be very beneficial to other people.
The CRE industry’s appreciation for greater flexibility has been accompanied by some concern. The majority of CRE professionals who answered the survey said they were worried about maintaining company culture — 60.8% said that it is harder to maintain while working from home. Another 43.5% said that while working from home provides flexibility, working from the office is ultimately better, and 42.1% said that working from home is isolating.
The separation between work and home has also become blurred, with 38.5% of respondents saying they work longer hours than they did before the pandemic. However, 21.1% said that while remote work has made their professional life more challenging, it has made their personal life easier.
Not all CRE professionals are keen to embrace flexible working conditions, with some complaining about the lack of clarity on when a return to the office will be possible. Others voiced opposition to the idea of permanent remote work.
“Unfortunately my company is never planning to return to the office the way it was, and I'm probably going to look for other work because of it. I refuse to be forced to work from home,” one survey respondent wrote.
In a data point that counteracts a lot of trend forecasting in the industry, most survey respondents did not favor the much-touted hub-and-spoke model, which promotes having suburban satellite offices outside of urban centers. The majority, or 56.2%, said they would prefer to go to a large hub, and only 17.4% said they thought that a hub-and-spoke arrangement would be convenient.
Collins said that in an area like Washington, D.C, where office rents are very high, a hub-and-spoke model could be very financially beneficial for some clients.
“I'm saying if you have a small Virginia office, a small Maryland office and a midsized to small D.C. office, you end up saving something like 25%, 30% on your real estate expenses versus the other way around,” Collins said.
However, despite the economics, Collins noted that he has not seen the model in action or seriously spoken about among the executives that he works with.
The timeline for CRE professionals returning to the office varies significantly. About 38.2% of respondents said that re-entry had either already occurred or would occur in the future, at a time not defined by a major holiday.
By tracking write-ins, Bisnow found that 10.8% said they were already back in the office in some capacity, and many indicated that they either never left or had re-entry in May or June, after many of the initial lockdown periods ended.
Another 20.5% said that most employees would be back in the office by Labor Day. A total of 36.3% said that they expected most people to be back before then. Only 4.9% said they expected to return to the office between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.
For several respondents, the timeline will largely depend on guidance from health professionals.
“There is no timeline at the moment. It will be based on science at the appropriate time, and everyone will have return options depending on what makes them feel the most comfortable,” a survey respondent wrote.
When asked if they had any hesitations in returning to the office, respondents had the ability to select multiple options. The largest share, or 42.3%, said they had no hesitations in returning to the office. Another 41.5% said they were concerned about losing the flexibility of working from home, and 32.9% said they didn’t feel safe returning to the office until all or most of their colleagues or building occupants have been vaccinated.
The largest shares of survey respondents were based in Washington, D.C., (14.4%), New York City (11.3%), Atlanta (10.4%), Boston (9.4%) and Chicago (8%).