Despite all the ways the coronavirus pandemic has normalized working from home, 3 in 4 workers hope to return to an office at some point in the future, according to a recent survey of 2,033 office workers worldwide by the commercial real estate firm JLL.
Roughly one-quarter of office workers hope to return to the office full-time after the health risks of the virus subside, while about half hope their employer supports a hybrid model of being remote part-time (on average twice a week, per survey results) and in the office for the remainder of the workweek.
The remaining 1 in 4 workers hope to make their work-from-home arrangement a full-time and permanent adjustment.
JLL's chief product officer Cynthia Kantor says a push for greater scheduling and remote-work flexibility has been a trend years in the making but points out that office buildings still play a role in the employee experience.
While the first few months of the pandemic demonstrated workers' abilities to adapt and remain productive while remote, "as we get further into the pandemic, the isolation and mental stress of working from home full-time is setting in," Kantor tells CNBC Make It. "Now, there's an interest in returning to an office with a desire to work from home one to two days per week."
Workers were also surveyed about their top priorities in the types of office spaces that would make the biggest impacts on their employee experience.
Nearly half of respondents said they hope their office will prioritize socialization spaces, such as coffee areas, lounges or terraces. As other experts have predicted with the post-pandemic rise of hybrid arrangements, workers may choose to use their remote-work days for solo focused work; meanwhile, employers may dedicate their office buildings to gathering spaces for teamwork, collaboration and companywide networking events.
"It's becoming clear socializing is important to people's productivity, as well as career outlook and development opportunities," Kantor says. She adds these common areas and the casual relationships they encourage are especially crucial for people early in their career. Young professionals with smaller networks lose out the most by not being able to make in-person company connections, she says.
With that said, 44% of workers also said having ample spaces dedicated to focus work, like concentration pods or phone booths, would boost their in-office experience. These types of spaces may be especially beneficial to workers whose homes aren't optimal for focus work, such as parents who have young children at home, those who live in small apartments or people who simply enjoy keeping a physical boundary between work and home
"Home used to be a place of relaxation, but for many people it's now their place of stress. The center of their life is there," Kantor says. With the promise of an office space, "having a space to go with a vibrant and different environment is important."
Another 44% of office workers added that spaces connected with nature, such as a terrace or garden, are a top priority that would improve their return-to-work experience. That could be as simple as having more plants around the office, Kantor says, or redesigning the office cafeteria to open out to terrace dining. And concerns around mitigating the spread of an airborne virus may lead to better awareness of building air quality: "Indoor air quality finally found its day," Kantor says.
Employers who already give thought to office design may have an easier time getting workers back to their desks in the future, and Kantor predicts more will follow suit to address employees' changing needs in the months to come.
"Corporations that focus on a people-centric workplace that's centered around flexibility of health, wellbeing and experience, they're the ones that are going to thrive," Kantor says.