OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – If you build a new shiny office building, will your employees appear in it?

Many American companies rely on this because they believe that personal work is better for collaboration and training of young employees. So even though most employees today still work from home offices and canteens, some companies are willing to spend big bucks on headquarters.

Businesses recognize that there is room for offices, although they plan to give workers more flexibility to work from home and can save costs by limiting their real estate holdings.

As a sign of how much companies are committed to maintaining offices, about 57% of the more than 2,300 office projects now being worked on by giant architectural firm Gensler were launched last year, in the midst of a pandemic. But in the construction process, companies are customizing the design to reflect that offices can become places that workers visit primarily to collaborate with others, rather than places where they work all day, every day.

Jordan Goldstein, co-managing director of Gensler, said companies are adding to having more meeting rooms with technology to accommodate remote and personal attendees, as well as more flexible space for people to choose where to work within the office .

Mutual of Omaha plans to build a new headquarters in its namesake in Nebraska, which could become the tallest building in Omaha.

But the insurance company says plans for its new building reflect its commitment to flexible working. The company has 4,000 employees in the Omaha subway area, but is planning a building that can accommodate only 2,200 to 2,500 people each day, said Mutual spokesman Jim Nolan.

“The only way that works is to use remote and hybrid work,” he said.

The number of people working remotely is clearly growing because many companies have learned they can do so during a pandemic. The Human Resources Management Society estimates that the number of remote workers in the United States will double to about 36 million by 2025. But the CEO of this trade group, Johnny C. Taylor Jr., said they would still have just over 20% of the workforce. The remaining nearly 80% will work in the office at least part of the time.

Another survey conducted last year by CBRE Group, the world’s largest commercial real estate and investment firm, found that 87% of large companies planned to use a hybrid schedule after the pandemic, with employees part-time in the office.

And separate employee surveys conducted by SHRM and Gensler last fall found that more than half of employees wanted to return to the office at least one day a week.

But so far companies are slowly returning employees. An average of 36.8% of the workforce returned to offices during the fourth week of February in 10 major U.S. cities, followed by Kastle Systems, which tracks attempts at building access cards. That figure has been rising since early January, when it fell 23% during the amicron surge.

Mutual of Omaha CEO James Blacklage said that bringing people together in the office would at least periodically increase productivity and creativity, and having a new office worth $ 433 million should help the company attract new talent. In addition, the new headquarters is likely to be smaller overall than the current Mutual headquarters, but the exact size will be determined later in the design process.

Elsewhere, two important projects are already underway: a new Walmart headquarters under construction in Bentonville, Arkansas, and a new home in New York for JP Morgan Chase.

Walmart said it has delayed building a new headquarters, regardless of the pandemic, because it currently spends tens of millions of dollars annually to maintain the outdated patching of more than 20 offices in northwest Arkansas for its administrative and support staff.

JP Morgan CEO Jamie Diman said the increase in the number of home-based jobs could mean that companies only need 60 tables for every 100 employees because they will be shared. But he is still seeking to create a new headquarters for the bank’s 12,000-14,000 employees because many tasks still need to be performed in person.

Deluxe, once known primarily for printing checks and now handles nearly $ 3 trillion in payments a year, invested $ 12.2 million in a new 94,000-square-foot Minneapolis headquarters that opened last fall. If they return on a more regular basis later this month, employees are expected to be there more often than they work from home.

But the new headquarters is less than a third the size of the old Deluxe. The company has halved total real estate across the country to better reflect its current needs as more people work remotely.

Deluxe CEO Barry McCarthy admits that part of the work of each of its employees can be done remotely, but teaming and the ability to work in a team is a bigger element.

“There are very, very few jobs that are just the work of individual investors who require virtually no interaction with others,” he said.

McCarthy, like many CEOs, says he believes office work is better suited for training and mentoring young employees because they can better observe and interact with their colleagues and receive more immediate feedback on their work.

Approximately 100 employees of Merrell’s shoe and departmental headquarters moved to a new office in Rockford, Michigan, in January. The project was in development before the pandemic, but CEO Chris Hafnagel said the company revised the plan after it became clear that many employees would still work from home for at least part of the time. Hufnagel said he believes the office will be the “epicenter” for the company’s work.

“I think everyone understands that there are some parts of our work that we do better when we’re together,” Hufnagel said.

And there are companies that plan to mostly abandon their offices in favor of remote work. But even these firms can keep a small office.

Intradiem CEO Matt McConnell said that in 2021, the software company spent the most lucrative year and did not miss a single hit while its 150 employees and 75 contractors worked remotely. After checking with staff, the company has switched to a remote plan and will give the lease term of the current headquarters to end at the end of 2022.

“It’s just a big empty space that no one uses. It doesn’t make sense to support that, “McConnell said.

But Intradiem, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, will likely have a smaller headquarters with space for its IT staff to assemble equipment to send homeworkers, and the company will encourage teams to meet in person from time to time. They can also rent space in shared offices run by WeWork so they can be used by staff across the country.

Modular flooring maker Interface just opened a new headquarters in 2018, but the pandemic has forced the company to spend $ 400,000 on renovating the building and investing in new technology and furniture to accommodate workers who are only in the office.

Darby Gracie, director of work life and workplace strategy at Interface, said she knows about 175 staff members did not miss a trip to Atlanta when they were working from home, but the company asked them to return at least for a while.

“We believe that most of the culture comes from the ability to sit down and have a cup of coffee with a colleague or have a class with a teammate – just get together in person and be able to read body language – we believe there is great value in this and that than we stand firm, ”Gracie said.

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