Business leaders should be prioritising the creation of tech-enabled flexible office spaces after recent analysis revealed over three quarters of employees were dissatisfied with the digital capability in their workplaces. In a national survey between July and September this year, 86% of Australians reported their office had a “tech gap”, a factor researchers said playing a major role in keeping occupancy rates stubbornly low.

Flexible Workspace Australia co-chairperson Brad Krauskopf said the findings supported widespread belief that providing a digitally connected workplace was critical to optimising office attendance and productivity – especially as hybrid working was here to stay. The report Next Flex: Technology for the next generation Australian office, found of 1000 office workers surveyed in the third quarter of 2022, 57% had flexible work arrangements and worked remotely one to four days a week, with the remaining 44% back in the office for a full five days.

“This report shows workplace redesign and tech-enabled real estate is an immediate priority for business leaders in the next 24 months,” Mr Krauskopf said. “Flexible real estate is becoming a core part of workplace strategy as leasing velocity comes under pressure following the pandemic. With this seismic shift in how occupiers consume real estate, it’s fair to say flex is here to stay and technology is central to its success.”

Top reasons behind empty office desks

A major revelation for researchers was how great an impact tech had on whether people attended their office or not:  more than four out of every five survey respondents reported a disparity their office’s existing technology and what they felt they needed to do their jobs efficiently, with lack of adequate tech a key factor behind their decision to work from home or an alternative space.

Researchers also found “staggering” the 85% of people who wanted the option of having a flexible workplace close to home in addition to their company’s head office. The high proportion was a result of respondents being discouraged from long commutes by primarily covid-19, high petrol prices, and unreliable or inconvenient public transport services according to the report. Researchers concluded this was “likely why most employees prefer being on a hybrid work arrangement”, and that workers were not opposed to attending the office “so long as it is close to home”, a sentiment that was behind the growth in suburban offices.

Other findings were that almost 60% of those surveyed felt their office did not provide a “flexible, seamless, agile work experience, and more than two in five people, or 41%, felt simple tasks took too long in the office due to the standard of their in-office technology.

The big reveal

So how can employers coax workers back to the office? According to the survey, 70% of Australian office workers would go back to the office more often if it were equipped with the following technologies:

  1. A mobile app to interact with spaces, services and amenities within the office building
  2. Smartphone door access
  3.  Sensor-controlled and automated technology such as lighting, climate control and air quality monitoring
  4. Occupancy monitoring that showed how many people were in a particular workspace
  5. Building-wide WiFi
  6. Ability to access space and services across a network of locations
  7. Digital signage for directions, workspace availability, etc.
  8.  Instant meeting room and desk bookings
  9. A/V control for devices in meeting rooms

If you’re wondering what might be missing right now, employees were also asked which technologies did not exist in their workplaces:

  • Smartphone door access – missing for 49% of employees
  • A mobile app used to interact with spaces, services and amenities within your office building - 45%
  • Occupancy monitoring that shows how many people are in your workspace - 43%
  • Sensor-controlled and automated technology such as lighting, climate control and air quality monitoring - 40%
  • Digital signage for directions, workspace availability, etc. - 37%
  • Ability to access space and services across a network of locations - 27%
  • Instant meeting room and desk bookings - 27%

Workplace redesign was the clear requirement for many employers and building owners analysts said. “The growing trend and acceptance of hybrid work has put connectivity and mobility front of mind,” said Tashi Dorjee, Head of Flex, at JLL Australia. “Reliable connectivity when having a workforce spread across home, offices and third spaces is paramount for productivity - and just as importantly security, which is a key consideration for any company.”

Earlier this year commercial real estate giant JLL reported that the number of employers to have still not offered hybrid working had fallen from 45% pre-pandemic to 9% by mid-2022, and any employer who believed they could enforce four to five days working from the office could expect anywhere from a third to half their employees to look for jobs elsewhere.

But the best organisations were now responding to the “strong wishes” of workers for flexible work arrangements and offices with technology that connected them to colleagues and partners, said Mr Krauskopf. These organisations were also leading in creating purpose-built collaborative spaces “that offered a superior experience than working from home”.

 “Elevating the workspace to become a hosted experience will necessitate more collaborations between property owners and flexible workspace operators, hospitality-driven business models and suburban workspaces that enable people to work near home,” Mr Krauskopf said.

Next Flex: Technology for the next generation Australian office was a joint project by the global software and technology provider for commercial real estate, essensys, and Flexible Workspace Australia.

For the full report see Next-Flex_Tech-for-the-next-generation-Australian-office_essensys.pdf