From our Thought Leader Contributor, EY.

Guest post by Kim Frahm, Executive Director, Corporate Real Estate, Ernst & Young LLP.

Employers have an important role in redefining the purpose of today’s workplace, aligning physical space to meet both employee needs and larger business objectives. An organization’s corporate real estate team (CRE) is at the forefront of these evolving workplace strategies.

The days of employees being in the office and establishing a home away from home in their cubicles or corner offices are over. The 2022 EY Work Reimagined Survey (WRS) found that 80% of employees prefer to work remotely two or more days per week. And only 22% of employers said everyone in their companies must return to the office five days a week.¹

However, the WRS also found that employees still value having a location where they can come together. When asked what drives their desire to be in the office, 25% said it was to build and maintain relationships, 26% said it was to stay socially connected and 27% said they value the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues. Clearly, there is a role for the workplace to play in how business gets done across the post-pandemic landscape. The challenge for employers is to create an environment that provides value to the employee and productivity for the business. The WRS found that 78% of employers are planning moderate to extensive changes to their real estate strategy.

The need to create a better workplace has also been a focus given the demand for employers to evaluate their workforce compensation, career opportunities and the employee experience. Employees have more options with tighter labor markets and fewer geographic barriers to entry, and their expectations are being driven by a mix of pay, role and flexibility. The pendulum has shifted in the employee’s favor, and the failure of employers to lean into this change could come at a significant and measurable cost to their business.

Here are some key themes that emerged from the Work Reimagined Survey as employers look to create a workplace that can propel their business forward into a future that continues to evolve:

Hybrid is here to stay

The hybrid model of employees splitting time between the office and a remote location has quickly become the norm across most industries. The EY Future Workplace Index (FWI) found that 72% of office-based organizations surveyed are currently working in a hybrid environment and 75% of US C-suite and business leaders do not anticipate returning to the traditional office.² But another factor in the permanence of hybrid work is the benefits it has provided. Productivity has increased, with 57% of business leaders, according to FWI, saying productivity is better today than it was pre-pandemic. Companies have found ways to enhance productivity under different working models.

Company culture has also improved with hybrid work. Between 70% and 85% of FWI respondents say their current setup is as or more effective than pre-pandemic, with productivity, culture, wellbeing, and operations and processes ranking as the four most improved areas. And 83% of companies that say their culture has improved have less than 50% of their staff full time in the office.

Finally, small to midsize companies are finding it easier to adapt and thrive in a hybrid workplace. This is particularly the case in the technology and banking sectors, where large firms are finding their current setup less effective than their smaller peers.

Bottom line: hybrid is working, and most companies have found ways to embrace its benefits.

Significant workplace changes are underway

Many organizations are planning on changes to their workplace. WRS found that 47% of employers surveyed are planning moderate changes, while 31% of employers have extensive changes in the works. Employers recognize that a reimagined workplace allows for better employee engagement. The old model with a sea of cubicles, private offices for the C-suite leaders and a conference room doesn’t fit the new environment. Buildings are being redesigned to create more collaborative space that can be adapted depending on the need.

Employers also recognize the importance of making investments that support the development and wellbeing of their employees. WRS found that 89% of employers surveyed are looking at changes specifically aimed at ongoing safety and wellbeing. The ability to demonstrate to employees that steps are being taken to create a more functional workspace could also be a motivating factor for companies to move ahead with changes to their real estate. Employers recognize that perhaps more than before, they need to build a case for why employees would benefit from coming into the office and/or continuing to work for that company.

Technology upgrades

Eighty-one percent of workplaces need extensive or moderate technology upgrades, according to WRS. Organizations are making investments in technology to inform their understanding and make better use of their real estate. It’s not just about the software and hardware that employees use when they are at their desk. It’s reservation technology that helps companies understand where people are seated and how space is being used. It’s more precise climate control tools so that employees feel comfortable when they are in the office.

Companies are looking to create agile work environments that can meet the demands of the hybrid worker. One example of this effort is smart locker systems. Previously, employees struggled to get a locker close to where they would be working for the day. Lockers were typically assigned and would always be in one spot, regardless of work location. Smart lockers solve this problem, enabling employees to reserve a locker wherever their workspace is for that day. Employee expectations of smart technology have become critical in building infrastructure and improving the workplace experience. The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) has sparked a further push to allow systems to talk to each other through common protocols and open standards, creating a digital ecosystem.³

Productivity in the future will require the right mix of on-site and remote technology. A digital twin is a replica model that allows an organization to spot potential issues virtually before they happen. A company could compile data such as real estate lease info, badge swipes, HR metrics, etc., into a single dataset. An analytical approach of the data could reveal inefficiencies, as well as opportunities to make better use of space. It could lead to a platform that integrates workplace experience, facilities management and other metrics into a singular point of view that informs the organization’s strategy.

Workplace amenities

The broader goal of all these actions, of course, is to create a workplace that appeals to the employees and leads to consistent strong performance. The best course of action may be for companies to simply talk to their employees. For those who aren’t being forced to return to the office, what is it that motivates them to come to the office? What amenities do they like and what is not being offered that they would like to see? Often it’s not perks or flashy additions that make the difference. Rather, it’s a demonstration by the employer that they seek to understand what employees need and want to work with them to provide it. That respect can often go a long way toward boosting employee attraction and retention.


The workplace is changing, but it’s not going away. The challenge for employers is to look at their property and figure out how it needs to change to meet the needs of the business and its people. Done the right way, it could prove to be a significant value creator for everyone.

Additional resource

Interested in taking a deeper look into EY’s Work Reimagined report? You can access the report here:

Article references

  1. How workforce rebalancing is building pressure in the talent pipeline,
  2. How can your workplace be as flexible as your workforce?

How smart storage lockers support flexibility for hybrid workers,

 The views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.