The return to the office will be here by September, says Unispace research

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More than half (52 per cent) of global companies anticipate a return to the office in earnest by the end of Q3 2021, according to new research by workplace creation specialists Unispace. 

However, over a third (35 per cent) claim that devising a strategy for the future workplace is the most significant barrier they face. This challenge comes ahead of other concerns such as employee safety (16 per cent), varied geographic needs (17 per cent), space configuration, and timing.
Tom Helliwell, Director of Strategy and Change Management, EMEA at Unispace, says: “Every country is experiencing the pandemic differently, leading to various expectations as to what the return to work might look like — and how fast we’ll get there. Globally, more than half of companies anticipate employees will look to return to the office for at least three days a week by the end of Q3, but this figure is much higher in APAC (71 per cent) compared to the Americas (43 per cent). As we navigate the post-Covid workplace in real-time with our clients, the strategic challenge, and how to get to the right strategy for now and for the years to come, is top of mind.”
Unispace’s quarterly Workplace Pulse: Market Insights study collates insights from some of the world’s largest employers on their plans for post-Covid workplace environments. Unispace surveyed nearly 150 global decision-makers across a variety of industries in May 2021.
In the UK and across continental Europe, the demand for new workplaces is high — 45 per cent of companies are planning new spaces, a figure which drops to 20 per cent in the Americas (where 57 per cent are looking at reconfiguration projects instead). Nearly half of new workplace projects in Europe are smaller sites — 48 per cent of companies claim smaller-scale work (under 20,000 sq ft) will be necessary before the end of June 2021. The Americas region remains the least optimistic about returning to offices in the near term.
According to the research, most firms are rethinking their workplace arrangements with nearly 75 per cent of global companies anticipating launching new workplace projects by the end of 2021.

A shift toward hybrid working and smaller physical office environments continues to dominate thinking about the future of the office, while 
just 16 per cent of respondents globally expect to proceed with major projects of 50,000 sq ft or upwards. More companies are pivoting towards hybrid working, with employees carrying out focus work from home and heading into the office for collaboration, socialisation and strategic work.

Some 45 per cent of EMEA respondents anticipate the need for a new space or completely re-imagined workplace as opposed to a light refurb. This is compared to 35 per cent of APAC and 20 per cent of Americas respondents.
Helliwell says: “The strategy question can be distilled down to three key considerations: what do employees really want, how much space is needed and how is it going to be used? It’s key to ensure that data is informing our global strategy for returning to the office – a strategy based on employees’ needs and behaviours, rather than guesswork and speculation. If companies get this wrong, they run the risk of shrinking their space too far, too fast. This is where space utilisation data and predictive analytics can unlock strategic insights about how the post-Covid workplace will function – from basic occupancy levels to real-time analysis of in-office footfall and employee behaviours.”