Navigating the next iteration of the return to office

Gen Z worker enjoys positive workplace experience in a modern office

While remote work can offer advantages in many situations, it’s not practical or possible for everyone. Virtual collaboration via Zoom or Teams can’t always replace in-person teamwork. And, as one survey of more than 61,000 Microsoft workers reveals, remote work creates its own set of communication challenges: more siloed and less synchronous interaction, increased difficulty in talking through complex processes, etc.

In some industries, the return to office is in full swing as companies roll out policies that require or strongly encourage employees to come back full time. This is the case for the several sectors in 2022, led well-known market leaders like Bank of America, Netflix, and Tesla.

There’s no right answer, and it’s a delicate balancing act for everyone. What’s the best way to establish policies that encourage a return to office without creating tension that could send your best people packing? If employees are expected to return, then technology needs to be in place that makes it simple, comfortable, and manageable to do so.

As you make decisions about your company’s return-to-office strategies, keep these observations from JLL Technology’s team of real estate experts in mind.

Gen Z workers want the office experience

Opinions about returning to the office frequently stem from pre-pandemic experiences. Generation Z workers—especially those who graduated in the last few years—don’t struggle with negative perceptions about the office. They’ve never had to report to a physical location. A recent study reveals that nearly 40% of Gen Z workers want to work in an office, eager for new adventures and the chance to build skills.

If your organization can give them the flexibility and patience they need to grow, then Gen Z will bring lots of value to the workplace—even for seasoned professionals.

As Martha Bird, business anthropologist at ADP, describes in a recent Fortune article, “While more experienced employees have a lot of knowledge to share, younger generations also have something to teach, such as how to do things more efficiently. Gen Z employees are more likely to challenge the current technology if they feel it lacks the degree of flexibility, transparency, ownership, direct communication, and authentic self-expression to which they are accustomed—and that’s okay.”

The office is a place to connect the next generation with experiences they’ve never had: mentorship and one-on-one coaching, in-person collaboration, and face-to-face professional relationship building, for starters.

Return to office policies matter, but tech decides success

If workers are expected to return to the office, then creating policies is a good place to start—but don’t stop there. Success often comes down to technology that can make the transition better. Are solutions in place to make your people feel safe? How are you making it easier to collaborate when people are more disconnected than ever before?

A successful transition to whatever type of office your organization desires to create starts with the right tools.

Common workplace technology gaps:
  • Mobile room- and desk-booking capabilities to streamline administrative tasks
  • Solutions that simplify office navigation (for workers returning after being out since early 2020 and new workers who have never been inside!)
  • Tools to help coworkers determine who’ll be in the office with them—and where those people will be working
  • A way to distribute important notifications to keep employees informed
  • The ability to evaluate where and how employees collaborate so corporate real estate professionals can maximize space

You can learn from what other companies are doing

There are many organizations sharing best practices and lessons learned as they transition workers back to the office. In a recent webinar hosted by JLLT, chief information officers from the University of Chicago, Pohlad, and Bosch discussed some of the ways their organizations have tackled these problems from the executive level. After all, every company is trying solve for the same unknowns in real time.

Popular approaches we’re seeing applied:
  • Try prioritizing the “why” when explaining return-to-work policies
  • Communicate plans early and often to give employees time to prepare
  • Provide amenities and connection points that support informal and planned collaboration and community building
  • Be flexible; as challenges arise, work with employees to find solutions

No right or wrong answer

Now’s the perfect time to do research, consider your own company’s return-to-work strategies, and learn from the successes and failures of others. There’s no right or wrong answer, just a question of if you have the technology you need to support your plan.

Thanks to our experience in commercial real estate, we’re workplace technology experts. Let JLLT help you plan the next iteration of your workplace or hear from more experts about how they navigated the same challenges facing your organization.