‘First assess, then decide’ is the way we work with our customers, so it would be strange if we deviated from that approach ourselves. There were only two outcomes predicted in advance–one based on principle, the other practical. CBRE worked in a hybrid way before the pandemic, and we wanted to see that continue. Additionally, CBRE’s headquarters have more than twice as many staff than available workplaces. Whether we’re in a pandemic or not – being present in the office for 5-days is impossible. We began putting the puzzle pieces together within those hard frameworks by using a 4-phased, structured process. A process that occasionally has momentum but one that also requires us to return to the drawing board from time to time.
Phase 1: Research
Quantitative: 2 questionnaires
Prior to our two questionnaires to gather quantitative information, we decided to involve the entire organisation and inform everyone at a Town Hall meeting. That created a collective sense of urgency and commitment which led to valuable input. The first questionnaire asked how staff felt about working from home, and the number of days that they would want to return to the office. The subsequent questionnaire focused on how people usually worked: alone, together, planned, ad hoc, focused, or unfocused, online or in person.
Hold your horses
‘It would be easy to draw conclusions too quickly. For instance, you may expect that departments with a high focus profile prefer to work alone, online, and remotely. That turned out to indeed be the case for finance employees – working from home was no problem for them. Valuations colleagues had the same profile; however, they do a lot of ad-hoc work and prefer to be at the office regularly to meet deadlines, perform emergency tasks and to guide junior colleagues. In short, they have the same profile but different preferences. That demonstrates the importance of interviews as necessary to interpret quantitative data. This way we can prevent hasty conclusions and false leads.’
Qualitative: one-on-one interviews
Personal interviews with all 550 people within the organisation would have no added value over a cross section of the organisation. Therefore, we looked to representative sections, such as the business unit’s MT members, Young Professionals and DNA (a group of CBRE cultural champions that rotates periodically). If you want to find out how different people feel about the same topics, you will need to ask them the same questions. However, the spontaneous nature of the interviews was not harmed by this red thread, which asked: what does your week look like, how does your team work together and what role does office do you play? This approach led to both surprising and useful results.
Phase 2: Validation
“We validated the joint outcomes with the participants once we had analysed all of the quantitative and qualitative data. We asked them what they saw in the results, whether they understood them and whether they saw themselves in them. They largely confirmed the results, with the most important insights being that there are major differences within CBRE in the way we want to work. Some groups find it much more important to be physically together than others. That recognition creates space for understanding and acceptance, for each other and for the need to use the office differently”.
We’re almost there, but not quite
“That’s how we slowly made our way toward a series of final scenarios that do justice to the results of the research. We created clusters with all the nuances included as honestly as possible until two main profiles emerged. On one hand, there were employees who wanted to return to the office but were willing and able to work just as effectively at home. On the other hand, there were some who felt that working together was much more important, or even indispensable. After much deliberation and careful calculations, we assigned zones to these teams. We called these zones ‘spots’.
Phase 3: Presenting and decision-making
“The boardroom reactions were varied – from smiles to frowns. Change takes some getting used to on every floor, but there is also room for that. After some plan-making and shuffling, the board finally took the plunge. The board made the following decision with safety first as the most important pre-condition. It will be a ‘hybrid autumn’ for CBRE with some luck.