‘Newfound flexibility’: How hybrid work is transforming commercial real estate.

Interview with Raf Augustinus, Director at Avenue 77

Avenue 77, a lively mixed-use development within Malta’s Central Business District (formerly Mriehel), is laying focus on employee experience, green spaces and pedestrian zones. Construction began in June 2019 with a planned finish by mid-2022.

A total of five office blocks on four levels are being built, and, in the wake of the global pandemic, commercial real estate has had to adapt to the new normal surrounding working lives – namely the hybrid work model, where part of the week is spent working remotely, and partly from the office.

Here, Avenue 77 Director, Raf Augustinus, speaks to WhosWho.mt about how the mixed-use development is adapting to the new normal, and the importance of having the right technologies in place to facilitate meaningful and productive hybrid work.

What is hybrid work?

Hybrid working provides employees with the flexibility to work at least part of the time virtually. This needs to be balanced with the benefits of time in the office together. Hybrid working is not new. The pandemic just accelerated the adoption of workplace flexibility, and it demonstrates that many people can be productive outside the office. Hybrid work is now normal.

Even if hybrid work is now the norm, will this continue?

Yes. Most of the workers really like their newfound flexibility. Many surveys show that employees would prefer working virtually at least two or three days a week going forward. Over the next months, many companies will need to define their approach towards hybrid working. The policies will vary between organizations and will continue to be refined over time as companies collect data on what is effective and what is not.

What are the challenges behind adopting hybrid work?

A recent study of CBRE Workplace identified three challenges:

  1. Hybrid work is difficult to implement
    How can you ensure the right people are in the office? What will office occupancy rates be?  What will employees need most when they come to the office?
  2. Hybrid work makes it challenging to ensure workplace equity for all employees
    How do you ensure that people who work virtually are visible, engaged and offered the same opportunities as their counterparts in the physical office?
  3. A hybrid workplace can lead to a disconnected workforce
    Companies that adopt hybrid work will need to find ways to meaningly connect their workforce in the right place at the right time to maintain their workplace culture.

How should employers respond to these challenges?

My first recommendation would be to involve your employees in the conversation. No matter how many studies exist, each employee and each team will have different needs. Ask employees and managers what their best work practices are.
Then ensure you clearly communicate your new workplace policies, so all stakeholders understand the expectations.

Hybrid working is not possible without the right technology, so employers need to invest in tools for qualitative video conferencing, software that enables booking meetings and reserving time in the office etc. At Avenue 77, we use an app from the Belgian company ZAPFLOOR.

Finally, employers need to invest in the office space and need to offer enough value so that people will choose the office over virtual work settings.

Surveys after survey, employees consistently mention the most compelling reasons to go back to the office include collaborating in person, attending meetings and mingling with colleagues. Offices will become springboards for creativity, innovation and collaboration.

This has implications for office design. People require different environments for different tasks. Many companies are therefore investing in activity-based workspaces. The Avenue 77 Business Centre will be setting this trend in Malta: more zones for collaborative work, video conferencing rooms, multiuse furniture, a training room and a pitch arena, more open space, all supported with modern technology.

Will this impact the office market?

Sure. At Avenue 77, many prospects we meet want to reduce their office space by 25 per cent and more. Workspace designs necessary to support a hybrid work model are forcing employers to re-evaluate earlier plans. The commercial real estate market will therefore need to adapt as well.