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Once office workers at French carmaker Groupe PSA return after the country’s coronavirus lockdown is over, they’ll find that 85 percent of office space is now or is in the process of being converted to meeting areas.

In fact, most of the 40,000 worldwide office workers at the company better known as Peugeot will find there won’t enough desks for them to come in every day.

The carmaker’s plan is that even once all Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and regardless of what country they are in, PSA’s non-manufacturing staff will work remotely two-thirds of the time in a so-called hybrid model.

While technology for remote working has existed for more than a decade, the practice was considered more as a privilege in France and many other countries until they went into lockdown to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Yes, it took a pandemic to usher in a global work revolution, and the workplace is forever changed.

The pandemic has overhauled how organizations and employees think of work, accelerating into several months or even weeks trends that had been slowly developing for years.

Still, most of those changes were reactive, imposed by fear of infection and lockdowns. Now, with vaccine rollouts providing a glimmer of hope that societies can put the worst of the pandemic behind them, businesses are drawing conclusions from perhaps the most extensive labor experiment ever carried out.

Finding the proper mix

What’s certain is that nothing will ever be like it was before. If the experiment showed one thing, it’s that on the whole remote working works.

Numerous studies show that workers are often more productive at home. Of course, there are challenges.

To be sure, not everyone loves working from home, and some sectors are better suited to it than others.

The past year also exposed inequalities based on the quality of housing and the makeup of households. Some younger employees felt they missed out on mentoring and training.

Going forward, employers and employees may not always agree on the proper mix between office and remote working. But they seem to all agree that 100% presence in the office is toast. One way or another, the hybrid office is here to stay.

“Gone are the days of true 9-5 Monday to Friday where you go to office because that’s where you get work done,” Liz Joyce, vice president at consulting firm Gartner Inc., said in a webinar posted on the firm’s website.

“Now, it’s more about what sort of work environment does the work you are going to do need, and so you will go into the office when you need to,” she added.

A November 2020 study by McKinsey of nine leading economies on three continents found that 20 percent of jobs overall could be done remotely three to five days a week, without any loss of efficiency. That’s hundreds of millions of people, with huge ramifications for real estate and consumer spending.

The top prediction in the annual survey conducted by CBRE Group Ltd., the world’s largest real-estate service company, is “remote work is here to stay.” The No. 2 prediction? “The office is here to stay, too.”

CBRE says the winners of the remote-work revolution will be companies that provide flexible offices, flexible work policies and flexible support such as stipends, home office equipment and technologies.

Maintaining office culture

“Employees now expect more autonomy,” Julie Whelan, CBRE’s global head of occupier research, said in a report on the company’s website. “Employers who build trust and offer choice will gain a competitive edge in the race for talent.”

Don’t expect the transformation always to go smoothly.

Employees seem to be less eager to rush back to the office than their employers would wish. By July 2021, 75 percent of executives anticipate that at least half of office employees will be working in the office, according to a study by PWC published in January 2021.

By comparison, 61 percent of employees expect to spend half their time in the office by July. Either way, that’s billions of dollars that won’t be spent in major business centers across the U.S., and by extension the world.

Another study by Stanford University, released in January, showed that on average American office workers would like to continue working from home a little more than two days a week. Their bosses on the average would like them in the office at least three days a week, saying it’s essential to maintain company culture.

The survey, which questioned 22,500 U.S. residents between May and December 2020, concluded that about 22 percent of all full workdays will be supplied from home after the pandemic ends, compared with just 5 percent before.

Numerous companies have announced that employees will continue to be able to work from home even after the presumed end of the pandemic.

Salesforce, Google, and Facebook and Shopify have all said employees can work from home until at least July 2021.  Twitter and Shopify have said it could be forever. Citigroup has told its employees that about half of them will continue to work from home well into 2022.

Still, handling a hybrid workplace requires more management than many companies seem to realize, according to Marine Chabot, a partner at Paris-based human-resources consultant ConvictionsRH.

She said most company announcements so far have been “buzz” and not real management decisions.

“Many executives think they have been managing hybrid offices, but they haven’t — it was imposed on them,” Chabot added. “Now, they are going to have to decide who comes into the office and who stays home. And it may not be the people who actually want to stay home or want to come in. Once the pandemic is over and everyone is theoretically able to work where they want, it’s going to be a whole new world that I’m not sure many companies are prepared for.”

Letting people decide where they want to work won’t always be possible because many surveys show that many companies plan to cut back on office space or at least cut down on workstations in favor of meeting areas. That means some workers will be told they can’t come in even if they want to.

To be sure, it’s not yet clear who the winners and losers will be in this new global work revolution.

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