Colliers Experts Share Research and Views on Location, Culture and the Future 




By: Sandy Frinton, PULSE Editor


The interest in a boundaryless work experience continues to grow, as many companies have yet to finalize plans to return to the office. And while the pandemic has freed talented workers to relocate and choose to live in new places offering a different quality of life, it also has had larger implications on businesses.


Issues about the location of work, culture and the future were explored by experts from Colliers in a thought-provoking keynote session at OWS21 with Kerris Hougardy, Vice President, People Services, North America and Charlotte Timms, Director, Workplace Advisory, Occupier Services, Americas.


The two leaders explored such topics as how businesses can attract talent if location is no longer an issue, whether culture is sustainable across time and place, and what the workplace needs to provide that people can’t get at home.


How Important is Office Location?


The COVID remote environment has created new opportunities for employees to consider trying new places to live, potentially reducing living costs and choosing exciting new locations where they can merge their work with play and their lifestyles.


The speakers informally polled the OWS21 virtual audience on how they would define the concept of a “boundaryless” workplace. While many expressed that they would love to work from a beach in Bali or anywhere in the world, the speakers noted the more realistic option for most people is relocating to the suburbs or moving to a new city. 


The pandemic has created a real opportunity for companies to be very strategic about where they locate their offices and why. Timms noted that she is hearing more conversations from their clients about Corporate Social Responsibility and the important role companies play in creating jobs and related economic opportunities in communities.


Another point raised for discussion was the question of whether a greater divide will be created in the future between traditional “office” workers who now can work from anywhere and those whose jobs are tied to physical locations. 


“As employers move more to CSR, it’s not just top-down, there is a real desire by employees to have a positive impact on the world around them,” Hougardy said.


The shift from a downtown core office environment to a more diverse environment has a ripple economic impact on retailers, restaurants and other merchants providing goods and services in the surrounding area that rely on employees coming into their establishments for business.   


How Do Companies Search for Talent?


The boundaryless office also has created new challenges for recruiters in how they narrow down the parameters in searches if the role can be located anywhere. Hub locations accessible by air transportation and proximity to go into an office if needed may be one way in the future to narrow the selection criteria.  


“When you suddenly open it up and say this role can be based anywhere, there’s a greater opportunity to find a pool of talent to go fishing in,” Hougardy said. “But where do you start the talent search?”     


Other issues created by remote work include the difficulties in onboarding new hires, the lack of an informal learning environment in the office, fatigue with Zoom and video conferencing calls, and the difficulties in building relationships and rapport. 


“Organizations and people managers really need to think through their strategy for recruitment and the onboarding experience, especially in the first 90 to 180 days where the informal learning environment is so important,” she said. “There needs to be an intentional shift in strategy about how we manage people in these new environments.”  


Without having that dividing “line in the sand” between the start and end of each work day created by coming into and leaving the office, many employees are working longer hours and feeling the pressure to be available online at all times for colleagues and other stakeholders, Hougardy said.


How Can Company Culture Be Maintained?   


The speakers explored the question of whether culture can be experienced and sustained if employees are not in a physical location.


Initially, employers responded to the pandemic with a “lift and shift” approach of replicating what they did in physical locations to remote. But this doesn’t always work. Companies need to look at the attributes of their culture and create ways to translate this to a virtual environment, Hougardy said.


The speakers shared the example of Colliers’ culture of “owning the blue,” a reference to its branding color used in the physical environment on its office walls, furniture, posters and other décor that gives employees a sense of pride and connection.

Colliers has moved to using its blue identity as virtual meeting backgrounds as a brand reminder that employees are part of a larger organization, she said.   


The virtual environment also has put more pressure on managers to effectively communicate to employees, check-in on their wellbeing, gauge the appropriate times to use video versus a phone call, and other new issues.


“We need to design virtual environments that really have the infrastructure to support people,” Timms said.


At the same time, culture also is about employee recognition and making workers feel valued.


“Culture is also about celebrating and having fun,” she said. “If you feel happy and part of the company or brand and feel a sense of pride, you’ll stay with the company longer.”


Timms noted that organizations have an opportunity to learn from other companies and individuals who have successfully worked from home long before the pandemic and take the best practices and lessons learned to better plan moving ahead.


What Can the Office Give Me?  


In redefining the workplace, the experts explored the concept of what the work environment needs to provide that people can’t get at home.


According to a Colliers Work from Home Experience Survey comparing attitudes from last spring to fall, 48 percent of people reported an increase in productivity over that time.


However, 85 percent felt a greater need to be available online, nearly half reported working longer hours and two-thirds reported a concern with work-life balance, the survey found.  


The Colliers survey showed that people most missed the personal connections, the ability to collaborate and the stability of routine. This creates the opportunities for offices to potentially provide multi-functional spaces, areas to collaborate and places to learn and participate in career development, Timms said.


“The workplace is many different things to many different people and that is unique to the business you are in,” she said. “Maybe it’s not about this work-life blend and it’s a work-life equilibrium we are trying to fix. How can we create spaces and experiences – irrelevant if they are at work or home – that allow those things to work in tandem and seamlessly together.”


Another issue discussed was what the incentives look like when hiring and retaining workers in the future with traditional benefits like a corner office, window view, parking spot and childcare no longer having the same value in a virtual workplace.


Since most people want the flexibility and a hybrid schedule for working in the office, the benefits that are appealing to them have changed, Hougardy said, requiring companies to create cohesive benefit plans that fit the needs of all employees.


One creative approach the speakers discussed was the notion of using ride-share services as a perk for employees on the days when they come into the office. Looking even further into the future, offering employees autonomous rideshares with artificial intelligence would create a whole new experience for employees compared to the prior commute to the office.


Hougardy noted that companies should take into account such considerations of how employees will be working, getting into offices and socializing over the next 10 years, the typical period of a lease agreement.


Engaging your employees and workforce in conversations about the future workplace is critical so you understand their needs, Hougardy said. 


With each company’s goals being different, measuring the data and staying true to the findings will create opportunities for the future, Timms said. 


“The last year highlights the fact that life can be unpredictable but anything we can do to strategically plan for life’s unpredictability with agility in mind is a good thing,” she said in wrapping up the session.  


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