How will COVID-19 & Data Help Us Reimagine the Workplace?

Despina Katsikakis • 22/06/2020

As governments around the world start to ease restrictions on lockdowns, attention inevitably turns to the concept of “returning to work.” However, many office-based workers have continued to work through the pandemic and so the focus should be on who should go “back to the office” and why? 

Of course, the first focus must be on employee wellbeing. Vulnerable employees need to remain safe and so are not appropriate candidates at this stage, but after that, the situation becomes more blurred, not least because social distancing means not all employees can be accommodated in the available space. In conjunction with this, companies have recognized, now more than ever, that many workers can successfully operate remotely. 

It is an important moment to assess what worked well during this enforced work-from-home period and what we can learn to inform the future ways of working and the role of the office. Cushman & Wakefield has always taken an evidence-based approach to understand the key drivers of workplace experience, whether that experience takes place in the office or elsewhere.  

We had 2.7m data points on the experience of office and remote workers pre-COVID through our proprietary Experience per Square Foot™ (XSF) tool. At the start of the pandemic we consolidated our findings for clients to support their employees and then modified XSF to focus specifically on the remote working experience through a new tool called XSF@home. To date, we have analyzed a further 2.0 million data points from more than 48,000 respondents worldwide, during the current work from home environment. 


We knew from our pre-COVID-19 data that employees who mostly work remotely often are more engaged and have a better workplace experience than those who mostly work in the office due to the inherent flexibility remote working provides. We therefore were not surprised to find that during the pandemic, productivity continued despite the disruption and shift to home. Employees continued to maintain the ability to focus when they needed to be productive on individual tasks and due to video and collaboration technology, team productivity has reached new heights. 


However, personal connections and bonding among employees are suffering and negatively impacting connection to corporate culture as well as learning and development. Connection to culture is manifest both consciously and sub-consciously in the office through face-to-face interactions which increase bonding, a sense of belonging and connection to the company. These factors also impact mentoring and learning which is particularly important for younger people to grow and develop. The results of XSF@home show that personal connection to culture is one of the lowest-performing attributes of the current employee experience, which can be an engagement and productivity risk in the long term. 

Wellbeing and Work-Life Balance 

Another challenge is the ability of employees to maintain wellbeing and take time away from work. As the daily commute has vanished, there are no obvious boundaries between work and life and people struggle to switch off at the end of each day. This is a considerable future risk for engagement and health. Younger people struggle the most working from home because they often lack an appropriate at-home work environment and are often juggling caregiving and remote learning for children.  

Despite these challenges, people find their work-life balance has improved overall because of the increased flexibility that comes with working from home. While people feel they have less time away from work, they also feel they have more freedom to choose when to get that work done. This freedom to choose when and where to work is something employees will demand and expect going forward.  

In support of this desire for increased flexibility in the future is the fact that 90% of employees feel they are trusted by their managers to work remotely. In the past, lack of trust was one of the key impediments to flexible working. Without this barrier, employees will have one of the most important factors they require (i.e., manager trust) to be able to choose to work as they need, enabling them to maintain their improved work-life balance.  


An unexpected benefit of imposed remote collaboration is that location and structural driven hierarchies have been reduced, which brings the opportunity for a greater diversity of voices to be heard across roles and seniority levels within organizations. Organizations can take advantage of this new digital equality to advance culture, connection and personal growth. People managers can be coached to become ambassadors of company culture, mentoring, and connecting in the digital world and focus on effectively supporting work and recognize the value of community. 

The Future Office 

We’ve have shown that the workforce can be productive anywhere, and when combined with people’s desire for flexibility, we expect that the workplace will no longer be a single location. The future way of working will leverage a total workplace ecosystem consisting of a variety of locations including the office, the home and third places offering flexibility and experiences to support convenience, functionality, and wellbeing. As work becomes more virtual, the physical place has a more important role to play, so there is now the opportunity to reimagine the purpose of the office; shifting focus to provide inspiring destinations that strengthen cultural connection, learning, bonding with customers and colleagues, and support creativity and innovation.  

Read more in The Future of Workplace.

Key contributors: Steven Zatta, Total Workplace, Global Lead Research & Innovation; Bryan Berthold Global Lead, Workplace Experience; Dominic Brown Head of Insight & Analysis, Asia Pacific

Latest articles in this series

Leeds North Star cafe closure COVID-19
Insights • Economy

Outlook for 2021: Small Prizes and Big Penalties

Long-term property investors should focus on location and asset quality, as those factors drive performance over a cycle. But, right or wrong, risk aversion to income risk tends to trump other factors in downturns and will dictate pricing trends in 2021. 
Greg Mansell • 04/11/2020
Westminster Bridge towards Houses of Parliament, London
Insights • Economy

Brexit Trade Negotiations and What They Mean for Businesses

Like COVID-19, Brexit has major implications for businesses across the country whatever the outcome of the negotiations. 
Richard Coleman • 04/11/2020
Ship with shipping containers
Insights • Retail

Retail & Supply Chain

2021 will continue to see growth in e-commerce and logistics demand and new retail supply chain models will be required to capitalise on the structural shifts in the sector.
Paul Durkin • 04/11/2020
Woman doing yoga next to home desk
Insights • Commentary

Locked Down and Locked In

What will happen in 2021? Perhaps there will be a vaccine, perhaps there won’t. Perhaps people will return to the office, perhaps they won’t. The smarter questions focus on what adaptions business and people will make over the coming year that set them on a new path for the future.
Richard Pickering • 04/11/2020
Technology 3D (image)
Insights • Technology

The Impact of Technology on Real Estate

Technology has created huge changes to the property markets and real estate industry in 2020. We asked Chris Hancocks from our Futures team, and Ross Hodges from our Global Innovation Hub what they see as the proptech to watch in 2021. 

Chris Hancocks • 04/11/2020
George Roberts Cushman & Wakefield
Insights • Commentary

How 2021 Might Reshape The Real Estate Industry

We will look back at 2020 as the year in which COVID-19 accelerated forces of change. These forces will shape the industry for many years to come and for those that are able to interpret and take advantage of them, the opportunities are enormous. 
George Roberts • 04/11/2020

Making Workplaces Human Again

The future workplace will look radically different as employers respond to a growing requirement for a work-health balance.
Despina Katsikakis • 15/11/2017
Data Center Update Web Card
Research • Data Center

EMEA Data Centre MarketBeats | Autumn/Winter

Development continues across the core FLAP-D markets in ever-larger phases as companies continue their move off-premises and operators expand their data centres accordingly. Many of the hyperscale services have chosen to launch new products and expansions in these areas first, reflecting continued and potential demand over the next several years.
Dave Fanning • 16/12/2020
elderly gentleman's hand place over each other on walking stick
Insights • Residential

Should You Invest in the Retirement Living Sector?

As a needs-based product, senior living real estate has historically proven to be more recession-resilient and stable than traditional real estate sectors.
Lee Layton • 14/12/2020
Business Rates
Insights • Occupier

Let's Talk Business Rates

In this 'Let’s Talk Business Rates' edition we provide an overview of the key events impacting business rates including; rate relief and several potential options to reduce your business rates liability.
person drawing a chart in marker on glass
Insights • Investment

The EMEA Investor Update

An update on the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on real estate investment in EMEA. 
James Young • 14/01/2021

Related insights

XSF 2.0 CArd (image)
Research • Workplace

Experience per Square Foot™ (XSF)  2.0

With the launch of Experience per Square Foot™ 2.0, Cushman & Wakefield is again taking the lead in getting its clients the immediate insights they need to strategize and plan as the global pandemic accelerates the evolution of the workplace and workplace ecosystem
Bryan Berthold • 05/11/2020
What's your take card (image)
Video • Workplace

What’s your take…on the workplace?

Global Total Workplace Lead, Despina Katsikakis talks about what the pandemic has meant for the workplace, accelerating the trends that have been apparent for the last decade and more.
Andrew Phipps • 29/09/2020
Part 3 Workplace Ecosystems (image)
Research • Workplace

Workplace Ecosystems of the Future

In this report, we examine what the future of the office will look like in a post-COVID-19 world by exploring investor, occupier and placemaker feedback and analyze historical work from home (WFH) penetration rates.
David Smith • 21/12/2020
Episode 1  (image)
Podcast • Workplace

What we know, what is critical and what’s next?

In this first podcast we provide a fundamental grounding of remote working through a three-stage approach, backed up by quantitative data analysis.
Despina Katsikakis • 24/03/2020
work-life experience podcast (image)
Podcast • Workplace

Leadership and Culture: Creating a Workplace That Excels

In the second podcast of the “Rebalancing the Work-Life Experience” series, we focus on two key qualities of a successful workplace: leadership and culture.
Rachel Casanova • 09/04/2020
Rebalance work life_Ep3 (image)
Podcast • Workplace

Staying Informed and Collaborating Virtually

In the third podcast of the “Rebalancing the Work-Life Experience” series, our attention shifts to two further drivers of workplace experience: staying informed and collaborative teamwork.
Nicola Gillen • 24/04/2020
recovery readiness guide 2.0 card (image)
Research • Workplace

Recovery Readiness: A How-to Guide for Reopening your Workplace

The “Recovery Readiness: A How-to Guide for Reopening your Workplace,” outlines some of the best thinking and practices that our more than 53,000 professionals have compiled across the globe and also includes insights from key partners.
Part 3 Workplace Ecosystems (image)
Research • Workplace

Workplace Ecosystems of the Future

In this report, we examine what the future of the office will look like in a post-COVID-19 world by exploring investor, occupier and placemaker feedback and analyze historical work from home (WFH) penetration rates.
David Smith • 21/12/2020
Part 3 Workplace Ecosystems (image)
Research • Workplace

Workplace Ecosystems of the Future

In this report, we examine what the future of the office will look like in a post-COVID-19 world by exploring investor, occupier and placemaker feedback and analyze historical work from home (WFH) penetration rates.
David Smith • 21/12/2020
Part 3 Workplace Ecosystems (image)
Research • Workplace

Workplace Ecosystems of the Future

In this report, we examine what the future of the office will look like in a post-COVID-19 world by exploring investor, occupier and placemaker feedback and analyze historical work from home (WFH) penetration rates.
David Smith • 21/12/2020
New Normal (image)
Research • Office

Do amenities still matter in a post-COVID-19 world?

The office—its workspaces, amenities and services—will need to be redesigned to support employees’ evolving needs.
Despina Katsikakis • 09/11/2020
Future of office space (image)
Insights • Office

Purpose of Place: History and Future of the Office

This study is the second in a four-part series that provides a new perspective on COVID-19’s impact on the commercial real estate (CRE) industry and the future of the office.
David Smith • 29/10/2020


Total Workplace
Total Workplace brings industry leading thought leadership, strategy and guidance to help clients implement innovative and consistent solutions through the use of tools, technologies and best practices.
Learn More
Experience per SF
Experience per SF™ is Cushman & Wakefield’s proprietary tool that gives you insight into the engagement and experience of your workforce.
Learn More
Global Occupier Services

Helping our clients make intelligent business decisions to get maximum value from the spaces they occupy.

Learn More


Get in touch with one of our professionals.