The future of Colorado’s workplace

When employees are in the office, new configurations will need to be created for health and wellness. Pictured above is Cushman & Wakefield’s Six Feet Office concept.

Amy Clark, Architect,
LEED AP BD+C
Workplace strategy,
Cushman & Wakefield

Historically, the office has been a place where companies bring their people together to foster innovation and collaboration; perform individual job functions; access a vast array of tools that promote efficient productivity for work outcomes; and where individuals experience personal and professional growth. It is where organizational culture has been nurtured. During the current global pandemic and the massive shift to working from home, organizations and individuals have shown a tremendous ability to adapt, often being forced to drastically modify work models within a few days or weeks.

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Our company has adopted a data-driven, evidence-based approach to understanding the key drivers of workplace experience, whether it is in the office or the current work from home environment. Through our bespoke Experience per Square Foot database, XSF, we have analyzed more than 2.5 million data points driving workplace experience from workers all over the globe in the pre-COVID-19 era. Through XSF@Home, the world’s largest work-from-home experience study, we have an additional 2.8 million data points from more than 56,000 respondents worldwide in the current work-from-home environment. This allows us to provide insights into how employees are coping right now and to identify the successes as well as the challenges. A rigorous understanding of these issues will help inform who should return to the office and ultimately lay the platform to innovate and evolve workplace strategies to develop an ecosystem of workplaces that promote both well-being and productivity.

The work-from-home survey included 759 respondents from Colorado, and these results can be used to determine what’s working and what’s not working for Colorado employees. For example:

  • 69% of Colorado respondents agree or strongly agree they feel productive when they need to focus (compared with 75% of global respondents).
  • 68% of Colorado respondents agree or strongly agree they are collaborating effectively with colleagues (compared with 75% of global respondents).
  • 46% of Colorado respondents agree or strongly agree they are connecting with colleagues (compared with 56% of global respondents).
  • 59% of Colorado respondents agree they are learning in the current environment (compared with 64% of global respondents).
  • While 70% of Colorado respondents reported feeling pride in working for their company, only 41% agree or strongly agree they feel personally connected to company culture (compared with the global average of 55%).

Overall, productivity has been maintained when compared to prepandemic data, however, connections to colleagues and the company culture as well as the ability to grow and learn are all struggling compared to pre-COVID-19. Sub-par connectivity at home was the most commonly cited challenge, with 34% of respondents raising this as an issue.

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In addition to the above data showing opportunities for improvement for employers, our survey results tell a broader story of how the various generations in the workforce are managing during this COVID-19-induced work-from-home environment. Across all survey categories (which included touchpoints ranging from well-being to company culture as well as employee experience) the baby boomer generation consistently scored highest in terms of experience and engagement, while millennials consistently scored lowest.

At first glance this seems counter-intuitive, as the millennial generation has been a key driver for companies to expand their work from home and flexible work options. So why is this generation struggling the most during this time of expanded work from home? Only 55% of baby boomers reported work-from-home challenges, compared to approximately 70% of Gen Z and millennial respondents. Millennials are more inclined to have multiple work-from-home challenges, frequently reporting inadequate home workspace as well as additional caregiver responsibilities as hindrances to their ability to effectively work from home. These, in turn, affect the overall productivity, employee experience and employee engagement of this population.

All generations struggle with well-being and taking “time away from work,” but this was especially true for millennials and this highlights a future risk. Many companies are pleased to see their people being so productive working from home, but the most successful employers are mindful of the importance for recharging and are actively encouraging employees to make use of their paid time off to avoid burn-out.

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Given what we know about the broader work-from-home experience for various generations, employers should be mindful that nearly 40% of Colorado’s participating workforce is comprised of millennials (25- to 39-year-olds). Generation X comprises 34% of the workforce (63% of whom report work-from-home challenges, namely caregiver responsibilities). Baby boomers, the generation most content with the current work-from-home situation, comprise a mere 18% of our Colorado workforce.

There were several promising findings from the survey worth noting. About 91% of Colorado respondents have a very clear or extremely clear understanding of what is expected of them when working remotely, and the “Manager Trust” index for Coloradans was an index score of 91.2, indicating that employees feel trusted by their management to carry out their remote work. These local results are aligned with our global findings for these questions.

Despite the work-from-home challenges reported, 75% of Colorado respondents agreed or strongly agreed their company should implement or expand the work-from-home policy (compared with 73% for the global average).

Conclusion. Based on our analysis of XSF and XSF@home survey results, we find that Colorado respondents faced more challenges while working from home, and this likely is due to the large percentage of millennial and Gen X in our workforce. Employers that effectively support their employees and colleagues while working from home yield increased employee engagement, productivity and retention of their top talent. Given the strong penchant across geographies and demographics to continue expanding work-from-home programs, we anticipate that 50% of the workforce likely will be working across a “total workplace ecosystem” balancing office, home and third places.

The office still has an important purpose to promote collaboration and company culture, but it is shifting away from being one singular place where all work occurs and rather is becoming a combination of spaces supporting the individual needs of employees and their specific job functions. Now work will happen wherever your talent can sell, innovate and collaborate. This new ecosystem of spaces will serve as the physical manifestation of your company’s culture.

Features in CREJ’s September 2020 Office Properties Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.