The great social experiment of what it means to be an office worker in 2021 is about to begin

Darren Fleming
The need for personal connection and collaboration among peers and colleagues, and how this ties into organizational productivity, has been a driving force for why we believe a physical office is still relevant, writes Real Strategy CEO Darren Fleming.
Editor's Note

This article is sponsored by Real Strategy Advisors.

Real Strategy magazine coverBy Darren Fleming, MBA
CEO of Real Strategy Advisors

There’s been a lot of talk about the future of work and hybrid offices lately and our team at Real Strategy has been right in the thick of it.

Senior leaders have been speculating that the hybrid office – one that combines a physical office space (with a mixed layout of assigned and shared seating) with remote working practices – will be the new norm moving forward. There has also been research to show that office employees expect to have more freedom over when and where their work is done, leaning towards a 50/50 split between working in-office and remotely.

In our previous volumes, we’ve touched on remote working and its benefits but also the productivity and mental health challenges encountered by employees as remote-first became the default setup during the pandemic.

The need for personal connection and collaboration among peers and colleagues, and how this ties into organizational productivity, has been a driving force for why we believe a physical office is still relevant. We’ve also been in discussions with employers who’ve expressed high levels of exhaustion (like their employees) with a full year of all remote, all the time.

Some employers are still trying to get back to pre-COVID levels of performance and corporate culture believing that, when it’s safe to come back to the office full-time, there will be the expectation from management for employees to do so. After a year of having to operate within a pandemic and not knowing what the next month might entail in terms of new restrictions and lockdowns, it only makes sense that frustration is building. That said, we’re not out of the woods yet and don’t know exactly when things will be “back to normal” with regard to office space use (if ever).

What a return to normal will look like is still largely unknown until more businesses and organizations have either reoccupied their old space or moved into new premises that have been modified and adapted to accommodate this new mode of hybrid work. The great social experiment of what it means to be an office worker in 2021 is about to begin! It may frustrate some managers but there will still be a slow shift towards mass office re-entry even after the vaccination rollout … which (at least in Canada) has only just started.

In an effort to pool our collective share of knowledge regarding successful office space allocation and virtual employee management, we’ve sought out conversations with executives who have been learning in the field. In this issue, we are joined by Kathryn Hancock (director of human resources) and Jim McConnery (managing partner) of locally based accounting firm Welch LLP who have been leading by example. Our interview acts like a case study in action for those still working through the kinks of managing people and office space under COVID-19 restrictions.

We also delve into the first quarter of Ottawa’s commercial real estate market, providing our insights on what’s happened so far in 2021 with regard to the strongest tenant market of our lifetime. Offices and office culture may have changed significantly and irrevocably over the past year but know that now more than ever, as you plan to bring your people back and in order to get them excited to join you in a physical office again, you deserve amazing space!

Darren Fleming has been an industry leader in the commercial real estate sector for over 20 years providing expertise in the areas of workplace strategy and commercial real estate brokerage. Darren has worked with some of Ottawa’s most active commercial design builders and major commercial real estate brokerages. With exceptional consulting and business strategy skills, he is an experienced leader and provides C-Suite level advice to his clients.