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Most workers want to come into the office to collaborate, ideate and connect with colleagues, but most offices aren’t built for that kind of work to be done.

Those are the findings from software company Cisco Canada’s Reimagining Workspaces Survey, which shows why workspaces must adapt to meet the evolving needs and expectations of employees.

“Most offices still aren’t quite ready to create an environment for people to have the best experience that they can have, so there’s still work to be done on reimagining what those workspaces look like,” says Cisco Canada president Shannon Leininger. She says with hybrid work, focused, solo work can be done at home and when workers come to the office, they are looking for a different experience.

The survey results, which are based on data from 150 Canadian employers and 500 Canadian employees, show 76 per cent of Canadian companies are partially or fully mandating a return to the office.

Ms. Leininger says that the pandemic proved that people can be productive at home, so companies are driven to bring people back for other reasons.

“It’s less about productivity and more about creating a culture and experience that people want to be a part of, where they can really shine and perform,” Ms. Leininger says.

To attract workers back, offices are being designed around needs and comfort

Mandating employees back into the office is still a divisive issue — research in August by the Integrated Benefits Institute shows that nearly half (47 per cent) of employees said they would quit or start looking for a new job if their employer mandated a full-time return-to-office policy.

Some workplace experts say that’s exactly what companies who introduce strict mandates want: for people to quit so they can restructure their workforce.

However, Cisco data shows Canadians are open to coming back to the office, with 64 per cent of workers saying they support their company’s mandate.

“The fact that more Canadians were really wanting to come into the office was an interesting change from some of the data that we’ve looked at previously,” Ms. Leininger says.

Workers want to come into the office because they desire collaboration (58 per cent), ideation (27 per cent), and to foster connections with colleagues (28 per cent).

Yet, currently office spaces are not set up to meet these demands, with 83 per cent of companies still dedicating more than half of their space to individual workstations. Additionally, only 34 per cent of employees report that individual workstations are highly effective at enhancing in-office productivity.

Ms. Leininger says offices should be “purpose built” for specific outcomes, especially when people are working hybrid and can get solo work done at home or in coffee shops.

She says companies need to consider, “what is the work that they’re trying to do in the office, and then how do they create environments that really foster that?”

For companies that have a budget allotted to office redesign, 63 per cent plan to make enhancements to workplace layouts.

Ms. Leininger says companies should focus less on having siloed, individual desks, and create more “hubs” and “communities” that allow people to come together and interact socially — for example, an open area with moveable soft seating.

While the survey shows that companies are taking action on many employee concerns as they return to the office, Ms. Leininger says they are lagging behind when it comes to artificial intelligence adoption and investment.

Nearly all employees surveyed (94 per cent) agree that AI has the ability to improve the effectiveness of hybrid work, but 40 per cent do not have access to that technology.

“I think the thing that employers need to focus on right now is using infrastructure, technology and AI in particular, to make sure that that office experience is a good one,” she says.

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