The Post-COVID Changes to BDO Office Life
How the office is evolving to meet our new reality
Lessons from the pandemic and lasting effects on BDO workplace culture
Findings from BDO Global survey across the BDO network
Being in the office nine to five from Monday through Friday is becoming outdated. As our work-life evolves, so does the role of the office and related real estate functions.
At the end of 2021, BDO Global Real Estate & Construction Industry group surveyed the 167 BDO member firms. The global network represents a detailed cross-section of social, cultural, and management approaches to worklife in light of the worldwide pandemic.
The survey shows how work is evolving together with the shape and role of the office. BDO Managing Partners shared lessons learned and effective strategies deployed to chart a path through a generational event. Here, the survey reveals remarkable overlaps and common patterns. They point to hard work, innovation, and embracing changes to the office and management styles as core initiatives.
For example, going to the office for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, is likely not the way forward. Seventy percent of surveyed BDO countries plan keeping flexible working patterns. Increased flexibility, work-life balance, and employee wellbeing are the most common reasons.
Many respondents requesting full returns to the office cite a lack of proper working conditions at employees' homes as one of the reasons, indicating that communication infrastructure shortfalls are a contributing factor.
However, although less time in the office is increasingly an employee request, the longer-term stress and tension caused by COVID-19 and work-from-home (WHF) initiatives are also becoming evident. For example, employees report feeling lonely and cut off from colleagues.
Offices offer some of the best opportunities to mitigate and counterbalance the adverse effects and increase employee wellbeing. Furthermore, they remain crucial for longer-term efficiency and attracting and retaining talent.
To achieve this, the office must change - as must the surrounding functions.
The changes here to stay
Pressing the fast-forward button on existing trends is often used as an image to illustrate COVID’s effect on the workplace and work styles.
There can be little doubt that flexible work styles were slowly making their presence felt before the pandemic. Now, it looks they are here to stay.
However, BDO’s Managing Partners also report that concerns about employees’ sense of belonging, wellbeing, and engagement drive requests to spend time in the office, as do concerns about employee efficiency and maintaining team dynamics.
It indicates how office life and meeting colleagues and clients in analogue form are vital for productivity and wellbeing.
Making better use of office time
While remote work has become normalised, that does not make the office a dead space. On the contrary, it continues to serve as the foundation for crucial social and work-related functions.
Simultaneously, less time spent in the office increases the need to make it count. This applies not only to work-related tasks such as teamwork and group innovation sessions but also to informal socialising, knowledge sharing, etc. Therefore, the office space needs to reflect this dynamic.
When introducing hybrid workplaces, BDO Managing Partners point to the 3Cs: Collaboration, Concentration, and Conference as guiding factors when considering changes. Other central elements include integrating tech solutions and digitalisation, physically rearranging office layouts according to the type of activity that needs to be performed (isolation, collaboration, innovation, relaxation, etc.), and increasing health & safety.
Changes can lead to follow-on challenges. One example is a BDO office that implemented an app-based system for reserving office space. A second iteration was needed that addressed employees’ desire to find and spend time with team members, including in hot desk environments.
This has proven hugely beneficial – especially for new team members and employees trying to form close relationships with co-workers.
Social and work in hybrid forms
With hybrid work models becoming the norm, digital solutions play an increasingly significant role across formal (work tasks) and informal (teambuilding or socialising) processes in and out of the office.
BDO’s survey shows that core digital tools for this new reality address knowledge sharing, online training, webinars, and digital meeting and collaboration. Furthermore, solutions for paperless working, digital signatures, digital file-sharing and external storage of documents play central roles.
Simultaneously, social dynamics are evolving. For example, more employees – and potential candidates - are migrating to areas further from main offices. Finding ways to accommodate such dynamics is critical due to ongoing talent shortages.
One approach is developing a hub-and-spoke model where the central office functions as the hub for remote offices. BDO firms report success with deploying such models, including dramatically cutting employee commute times (thereby improving sustainability) and better engaging potential employees that competitors struggle to reach.
Others have used combinations of digital and in-person events to build social bonds. For example, senior partners from one firm spent a morning delivering meals in-person to all employees and then having an online lunch for all staff.
Extending innovation to real estate functions
As the office’s role changes, it is likely that overall sizes – and thereby expenditures – will fall. However, most survey respondents report that immediate office expenditures remain at similar levels. This may be partly linked to expenses to upgrade office layouts and long-term lease contracts.
Potential lease renegotiations often involve corporate real estate functions (CRE).
Traditionally, CRE has been viewed as a cost centre, tasked mainly with procurement and management. However, as the office evolves, so do the functions of the CRE.
Companies will need to dynamically address each office location, determining what functions and work need to occur where and why. Consequently, the CRE needs to play a more active role in the integration strategy, unifying different cultures and separate sets of real estate assets – often with varying levels of digital maturity.
Furthermore, CRE can help address information challenges if it has access to the right workplace metrics and underlying data, including better facilities management and supporting the workforce’s needs.
During the pandemic BDO opened a number of new offices at remote locations. The goals include supporting colleagues moving away from overheated housing market in capitals and main cities to live in more affordable, larger accommodations in the countryside and in houses with home office rooms.
In line with this, many BDO firms adopted policies to support home office facilities.
BDO’s new offices also help provide a regional hub for training, collaboration and conferences and the ability to tap into new potential resources of staff in regions with less competition.
It should be noted that new offices do not necessarily equal investing in own offices. There is a growing use of third-party serviced office space.
A lessening focus on offices in central business districts and more dispersed workforce also led to new considerations. The overall impact on mobility is increasingly interesting, such as the availability of nearby public transportation, the ease of access with private transport, and a shorter commuting time.
Insights from BDO Australia
Insights from BDO Belgium
Insights from BDO UK
Insights from BDO USA