The COVID Effect: Vacant Office Spaces And A Remote Workforce

 
 
 

Look at any large city, and you’ll see “Covid office space,” otherwise known as office towers that sit empty due to COVID-19 closures. In Seattle alone, roughly 90% of the 47 million square feet of leased office space is currently empty due to the pandemic. Nationally, demand for commercial office leases has dropped more than 50% from pre-COVID-19 levels.

 

Even when people start going back to the workplace, they will likely be doing so less often, if at all. There are indications that far fewer people will be going back — according to Global Workplace Analytics, 82% of US workers state they would prefer to work from home some or all of the time. It’s not just employees who are reconsidering the office. A recent survey about future office space found that nearly 70% of CEOs were planning to permanently cut back on their space.

 

The “work-from-home” approach may have originally been a reaction to the pandemic, but it’s quickly becoming an accepted practice. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, advancements in technology, such as greater bandwidth and connectivity, cloud-based collaboration tools, and methods such as bringing your own device (BYOD), had paved the way for an increase in remote work. The pandemic accelerated this shift. As a result, companies are discovering that a remote workforce is possible, but it is more efficient and profitable in many cases 

 

There are several significant benefits of moving away from the office:

  • Cost Savings: remote work saves employers an average of $11,000 annually per employee.

  • Increased Engagement: employees have expressed a desire for remote work options for some time, and many are reporting higher levels of engagement and productivity as a result. In a recent survey, remote workers self-reported 75% productivity at home, compared to 63% when in the office.

  • Mitigate Risk: with an established remote work policy, some level of disaster preparedness and risk mitigation is inherently in place. And including flexible and remote work options in your company’s disaster preparedness plan may help keep employees safe, aid in quicker emergency recovery, and even keep the company in business.

  • Access to talent: remote workforce means your applicant pool is not constrained by geography. You can recruit and hire the best candidates for your positions, regardless of their location.

  • Sustainability: remote work makes a positive environmental impact by lowering the number of cars on the road, reducing s overall greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel consumption, energy use, and air pollution.

 

There are numerous benefits related to the shift to a remote workforce. But, organizations must be careful not to assume moving away from the office will be a blanket panacea for work after Covid. There are challenges, too — but they aren’t insurmountable.

 

HR can make the transition to ongoing remote work a success

There’s no question that working from home can be a transition for employees, managers, and leaders. 

 

"The urgency for more agile processes, easier access to data and the ability to support remote work is accelerating digital transformation,” according to an executive from SAP. “It's critical that leaders develop a culture of continuous learning and inclusion. This will enable workforces to drive needed transformation projects, even during a period of unprecedented change."

 

As HR leaders plan for this transformation, focus on developing training programs that support agile processes, such as using collaborative project management tools and upskill “chat literacy” to move those hallway conversations to online mediums. 

 

To enable HR’s agility as a function, the right tools and technology are essential. A cloud-based HCM like SyncHR can help streamline HR functions such as payroll, time-off requests, benefits management, legal documentation, and e-signatures.

 

This monumental transformation in how work gets done is not HR’s job alone. HR must partner with multiple functions to increase the organizational capacity for remote work. The IT team requires the resources — both infrastructure and employees — to ensure technology is in place. Additionally, the legal team will be a crucial partner in providing the necessary direction and insight regarding local and federal employment laws that may impact when employees aren’t working onsite. Finally, there are many tax implications when employees work out-of-state — the finance, payroll, and HR teams all need to understand those implications to inform leaders regarding talent-related decisions.

 

If you want to adapt to a new normal for the long-term, consider some of the challenges, as well as the possible solutions:

 

Focus area

Risk

Solution

Organizational connection

When asked, 31% of remote workers said the thing they missed most about working in an office was social interaction.

 

Host virtual events, encourage casual, non-work discussions, and promote employee recognition to keep remote workers connected and boost morale. This will strengthen company culture and inspire collaboration.

 

Management skills

 

Managers may not have the knowledge or skills to manage and motivate remote workers or successfully evaluate their performance.

Invest in remote leadership training and courses to empower them with the skills needed to get the most from their remote team.

Communication 

 

Established methods of communicating within an office space may not be suitable for a dispersed workforce.

 

Revise and revisit your communication protocols to ensure information is readily available and accessible for remote workers.  

Data security 

 

A dispersed workforce may make your company more vulnerable to data breaches and fraud. 

 

Mitigate these risks by requiring remote employees to work only on secure networks with firewalls and anti-virus software in place.

 

Conclusion

While the approach for future office space after Covid remains  mostly uncertain, the shift to a more permanent remote workforce provides employers an opportunity to think outside the traditional four walls. Some HR analysts predict many organizations transitioning to a hybrid model and becoming “virtual-first” with a workforce distributed across home, headquarters, and satellite offices for work after Covid ends. More than 26% of companies in a Colliers survey stated that they expect to rely more on flexible workspaces. 
 

The pandemic created dramatic challenges and changes for organizations. HR leaders have been on the frontline in assisting their organizations during this new era. As the future of work continues to evolve and shift, HR has an opportunity to continue driving meaningful change. Ultimately, organizations that recognize this opportunity and prioritize working in ways that benefit the needs of their employees while also meeting corporate objectives will have an advantage going into the post-pandemic era.

Contact a SyncHR solutions expert to learn more about how an HCM can help your HR team and the larger organization adapt to the new realities of life away from a centralized office.

 

 

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Liz Sheffield

Liz Sheffield

Liz Sheffield is a writer and communicator based in Seattle, WA. She specializes in writing about topics related to HR and the people side of the business. Her areas of interest include HR Tech, HCM, leadership, training and development, employee engagement, culture, and recognition. Sheffield brings more than a decade of corporate experience in HR.

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