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Keep it flexible

24 October 2023

Research suggests that hybrid working employees are happier than in-office staff – but what does this mean for FM, asks Amanda Vlietstra?

From a facilities management perspective, the ‘return to office’ has created some challenges. Facilities managers are often charged with making office space work for both employers and employees, and thus they’re caught between a rock and a hard place with employers wanting to recoup the investment on expensive office space by bringing employees back into the office and employees who’d prefer to work remotely. A recent YouGov poll found 57% of British workers would prefer to work from home.

Improved wellbeing is the reason for this. A 2022 Future Forum survey of knowledge workers found that full-time in-office workers felt the least satisfied with work-life balance, hybrid workers were in the middle, and fully remote workers felt most satisfied. A similar survey by CNBC found that fully remote workers are more satisfied with their jobs than fully in-office workers.

Despite this, 72% of companies globally have mandated a return to office, according to remote workspace company Unispace. In August, Zoom became the latest tech company to insist that employees living within a 50-mile radius of the company’s headquarters work in the office for at least two days a week – ironically, given that its business is all about facilitating remote work.

However, business’ insistence on a return to office has come at a price – a 42% higher attrition rate, according to Unispace. And, while there are signs that the ‘Great Resignation’ is slowing down, the market for talent remains highly competitive; although employers stress the importance of in-office working for communication and collaboration – and, they argue, improved wellbeing due to more social contact – employees are continuing to vote with their feet. Remote working is often better for financial wellbeing as it cuts down on commuting, childcare and petcare costs. A recent survey by FlexJobs indicated that 96% of workers also believe that remote or hybrid work is best for their mental health.


Many employers have settled on hybrid work as the best compromise – just 30% of UK workers are fully on-site today, as opposed to 57% before the pandemic, according to However, remote work isn’t an option for everyone – cleaning, for example, is among the jobs which can’t be done remotely. As a result of the frontline nature of much of FM, wellbeing in the industry suffered during the pandemic. 

This adds an extra layer of complication for employers in the FM industry looking at ways of improving employee wellbeing by considering flexible ways of working – particularly as colleagues working in frontline, minimum wage roles are likely to find childcare and commuting costs even more challenging during the current cost-of-living crisis.

However, a German study conducted last year found that employees were willing to sacrifice around 8% of their wages in exchange for the ability to work from home up to five days a week, and 5% in exchange for a flexible schedule. For FM companies with staff and suppliers on minimum or living wage, the ability to offer flexible working schedules could be key to greater employee wellbeing and therefore productivity, even during times that are economically challenging.

Clearly, unless economic circumstances radically transform the job market and concentrate power back into the hands of employers, hybrid working is here to stay – in whatever form that may take. For FMs, this is dual challenge; delivering flexibility for their own employees as well as making sure clients’ office space is as flexible as possible to accommodate hybrid working. Collaboration and communication between employees and leadership are key to delivering on this – as is recognising the importance of employee wellbeing to sustaining a productive workplace. After all, happy employees are productive employees.

We spoke to two industry experts for their view on the evolution of hybrid working:

“Now is not the time for a return to office”
Workplace platform Spica’s Managing Director Tim Streather looks at how employers can use data to juggle flexibility with collaboration

Data collected by Spica Technologies has revealed the reality of hybrid work in 2023. The study analysed buildings across a variety of European nations post-pandemic, including England, Scotland, Denmark and Sweden. 

A disparity emerged between average daily occupancy and daily desk utilisation. Interestingly, the statistics for desk usage were significantly lower, hinting at a shift towards half-day office visits and meeting-centric interactions, rather than 
adhering to the conventional 9-to-5 routine. 

The study also revealed a distinctive pattern in app usage, which surged from Sunday through Thursday, while experiencing a dip over the weekend. This trend can be attributed to the booking function on Spica's platform and is indicative of a collaboration-minded workforce. For individuals keen to attend specific events and engage in collaborative endeavours with their colleagues, proactive planning becomes a logical choice. This proactive mindset extends to meeting room bookings, which mirrored the desk occupancy trends by peaking midweek and dwindling on Fridays. This suggests workers are planning in-office days with colleagues to foster enhanced collaboration.  

It’s clear that contemporary workers are keen to collaborate. Now is not the time to follow world-leading corporations calling for a return to the office. A want for flexibility does not disregard the need for collaboration.

Corporate landlords must ask how they can transform employee values from ideas to the foundations of their workspace. For those who have not yet incorporated up-to-date technology into their office, prior planning collaboration days and in-person meetings will be trickier. Traditional methods fail to take into account additional factors, from parking spaces to available desks, that ensure the in-person experience is worth the commute.

Through integrating a workplace experience platform, like Spica’s GemEx Engine®, facilities managers can offer occupants an easy-to-use booking system for desk space, car parking, and meeting rooms. By encouraging employees to plan in-person collaboration ahead of time, and ensuring they have the right-sized meeting room for their party, employers can balance want for collaboration with flexibility.

With global corporations introducing back-to-office mandates, it’s important for employers to recognise trends in attendance and encourage collaboration when people are in, without forcing them to lose the flexibility they gained during the pandemic. Workspace platforms are vital for curating a company culture based on your employee’s values, placing power back into their hands. 

“Water can play a part”
Phillipa Atkinson-Clow, General Manager, the Water Dispenser and Hydration Association (WHA), explains why providing good hydration can help facilitate hybrid working

There’s a growing trend for businesses to find ways of encouraging their staff back to the office. Water can play a part here. There are a number of different solutions for providing access to drinking water. Water dispenser stations can be configured in a number of different ways, including options to dispense chilled or filtered water. 

Many companies are looking to move away from vending machines that deliver bottled water, in an attempt to reduce the amount of single use plastic waste they generate. While there are brands of bottled water that use biodegradable plastic, encouraging staff to bring and use their own reusable bottles can help to further reduce waste. Bottle filling stations are a popular choice for this, as they allow staff to refill their own bottles. Innovative, sustainable, and better tasting hydration solutions such as these can help incentivise workers to appreciate their office environment, even if working from home is a natural preference. 

The work environment has changed a lot over the last few years, but it looks like hybrid working is here to stay. Recognising the importance of maintaining healthy habits whether at home or in the office is paramount to building a happier and more productive workforce. 

The WHA (Water Dispenser and Hydration Association) is the voice of the water dispenser and hydration industry. Its members are committed to offering the very best in terms of quality, trust and standards. 

Image: Shutterstock

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