Report: Europeans Return To The Office But Hybrid Workspaces Need Modernization

This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala, Author at eWEEK.

The shift toward hybrid work is more than a trend; it transforms how we view and value the workplace. Employers and employees alike are navigating this new terrain, balancing the appeal of in-person collaboration with the autonomy of remote work. Despite the positives, there is a notable gap between employee expectations for the office environment to support hybrid workspaces and the current state of office readiness.

To explore this trend, Cisco recently surveyed 3,500 employees and 1,050 employers from companies of all sizes across seven European countries: France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the UK. The findings were published in a report, The Race to Reimagine Workplaces and Workspaces for a Hybrid Future, released as part of the company’s Cisco Live EMEA activities.

Enthusiasm is High But Readiness Lags

The report sheds light on the current state of hybrid workspaces and work in Europe, revealing both enthusiasm and challenges. It also examines differences in responses to the technologies used by Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z, debunking common misconceptions about employee attitudes toward hybrid work.

The enthusiasm for returning to the office is clear, driven by the potential for enhanced productivity, collaboration, and a sense of belonging. However, the readiness of office spaces to support hybrid workspaces is lagging, with only a fraction of employers and employees considering their offices well-prepared for this new way of working. The report highlights a pressing need for office redesigns to accommodate a multi-generational workforce’s demands better.

Currently, nearly 80 percent of organizations in Europe employ at least 10 percent of their workforce in hybrid roles, with half reporting over 30 percent of their staff coming to the office three to four days a week. A significant aspect of this shift is that a third of all office interactions now involve remote workers, highlighting the need for collaboration technology. As we advance, 83 percent of employers anticipate that hybrid work will become the norm within two years.

The desire for personal flexibility and comfort largely drives employees’ preference to work from home. Notably, work preference varies by generation. Baby Boomers prefer office-based work, while Gen Z and Millennials prefer remote and hybrid arrangements. According to the findings, 68 percent of employers have received positive feedback on mandates for returning to the office, and 74 percent of employees express a positive view.

The Need for Collaborative Spaces and Tech Infrastructure

There’s a significant gap between what employees expect from their office environment and what is currently available, especially in areas critical for hybrid work, such as collaborative spaces and tech infrastructure.

Only 32 percent of employers and 37 percent of employees consider their office spaces well-prepared for hybrid work. The reason is that current office setups do not adequately promote in-office productivity, with most spaces consisting of workstations. Employees and employers find personal workstations and meeting rooms only moderately effective, highlighting the need for updated office space designs. This data should not be a shock as many European office spaces have not seen a significant technology upgrade in decades.

Redesigning office spaces to meet the expectations of a multi-generational workforce can be challenging due to varying perceptions of the effectiveness of meeting rooms. The key reasons for the perceived ineffectiveness of meeting rooms include:

  • The absence of video and audio (42 percent)
  • Poor audio-visual quality (37 percent)
  • A lack of inclusivity and consistency for remote participants (26 percent)

Shockingly, less than half of the meeting rooms in office buildings are equipped with video and audio capabilities. Furthermore, employees and employers are concerned about the lack of seamless integration among collaboration tools, with only 10 percent of Gen Z employees considering the current tools seamless.

The report also points out a surprising underemphasis on sustainability in office redesigns despite the growing importance of eco-friendly practices in corporate strategy. Only 45 percent of employers and 36 percent of employees view eco-friendly practices as top priorities in workspace redesign. This lack of oversight may be contributing to the trend of increasing office footprints.

Despite this trend, employers remain focused on improving the employee experience through office redesigns. Most employers (90 percent) and employees (87 percent) believe a positive link exists between workspace design and employee satisfaction. Furthermore, over two-thirds of employers try to ensure a smooth transition between home and office environments.

Common support measures include:

  • Flexible work arrangements (50 percent)
  • Technology usage training (48 percent)
  • Enhanced network infrastructure at both home and office (42 percent)

The technology tools provided to employees primarily include:

  • Video conferencing platforms (54 percent)
  • Instant messaging/team chats (52 percent)
  • Cloud-based document sharing (49 percent)
  • Project management (43 percent)
  • Virtual meeting rooms (33 percent)

Simplifying the user experience remains a significant challenge in ensuring employees can effectively use these tools. In fact, 75 percent of employees lack proficiency with project management and collaboration tools, while 71 percent are deficient in video conferencing and 70 percent in cloud-based document sharing.

Advice for Hybrid Work Upgrades

Cisco makes several recommendations to companies with hybrid work models. This includes rejuvenating meeting spaces, implementing hybrid-friendly technology and network solutions, refreshing office layouts for improved collaboration, and embedding sustainability into workspace designs.

Companies of all sizes should be addressing connectivity issues and ensuring interoperability to provide a seamless, stress-free work experience. Moreover, Cisco recommends fast-tracking hybrid work strategies to align with technological advancements, workspace aesthetics, and corporate culture.

Companies must understand that technology alone is not enough. Adequate training and support are also necessary to ensure ease of use and improved productivity. Achieving an optimal hybrid environment requires a balanced approach that’s both productive and sustainable, where employees can thrive in the new era of work.

Bottom Line: Hybrid Workspaces

Over the past year, many businesses have mandated employees return to the office only to have to repeal the mandate a short time later. Before organizations lay the hammer down, they should look at the office’s technology to ensure it facilitates a best-in-class experience. Investing in this area will go a long way toward employee happiness, which cuts churn, improves morale, and makes everyone more productive.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.