As the role of the office recedes, companies are investing their real estate savings in remote working

CFO Sean Quinn took a masked selfie in front of a banner reading, “It’s not goodbye, it’s Zoom you later!” But he asked himself, “What are we if we are not an office?”

Turns out the answer is a company that saves $ 9 million a year on real estate – and uses most of that money to focus entirely on remote work.

The pandemic has forced companies to reconsider the role of the office in the working world, because employees have proven how efficient and happy they can be to do their work remotely. Many companies keep their offices and modify their layout to create more flexible collaborative spaces.

But nearly a quarter of employers have reduced their workspace since the start of the pandemic, according to research and consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, which specializes in hybrid and remote strategies. And a few are downsizing drastically, investing the money they previously spent on square footage to build their ability to operate with employees scattered all over the place.

Vistaprint’s new collaboration center is a major downsizing from its old office, as the company is moving remotely first. Jonathan Wiggs / Globe Staff

They buy technology to facilitate virtual collaboration. They help employees pay for phone service and Wi-Fi, standing desks and ergonomic office chairs, as well as subscriptions to meditation apps and Peloton courses. A new recruiting company completely remote from Boston is even using some of its savings to build solar panel farms to offset carbon emissions produced by its offices over the years.

So far, dramatic reductions in physical space are more the exception than the rule, said Mark Bruso, senior research director at commercial real estate company JLL. Businesses have taken office in Boston at a record pace before the pandemic, he said, with many signing of 10- to 15-year leases locking them in for some time to come.

And getting out of the office isn’t for everyone.

One-third of companies that try to “work anywhere” will fail, predicts Cambridge-based Forrester Research, which has just announced that it will also allow employees to work from anywhere. But the savings are hard to ignore.

When employees work remotely half the time, companies save nearly $ 11,000 per employee per year, after factoring in the additional expense of remote technology and home office equipment, according to Global Workplace Analytics. The savings are generated by increased productivity and reduced turnover, absenteeism and real estate costs, assuming a 25% reduction in space.

Interactions, an AI virtual assistant company in Franklin, was on the verge of signing a lease for a 50,000 square foot seat – doubling its previous space – when COVID hit. Instead of moving, the 400-person company downsized to 8,000 square feet in the building it already occupied and closed two offices elsewhere. The move saved the now predominantly remote company $ 5.6 million, said human resources director Mary Clermont, most of whom reinvest in employees through promotions, of a match increase. 401 (k) and new rewards and learning platforms.

At the end of existing leases, the company plans to further reduce its footprint. When Clermont visited Franklin headquarters last week, she said, there was no one there. “It was me and my dog, that’s all.”

Boston-based recruiting firm Aquent is saving about $ 600,000 a month by letting most of its 35 offices around the world expire. In addition to paying to equip the home offices of its 720 employees and purchasing coworking space subscriptions for those who need them, the company is also investing in employee peer groups, training leaders to become better digital facilitators and budget for monthly webinars on wellness and team building. Activities. The company went so far as to hire professional musicians to help employees write an Aquent-themed song. Aquent is also strengthening its corporate social responsibility by building four solar panels in Indiana and Ohio to offset the company’s carbon emissions over the past 35 years. With so few offices and so few commuting, Aquent expects to be “carbon negative” by early next year.

At Cimpress, the remote switch first was helped by a little luck. Executives knew they always wanted some physical space, and ZoomInfo, a business intelligence platform with a 70,000 square foot office a mile from Interstate 95, was looking to expand. Companies have therefore exchanged spaces.

Cimpress renovated the first floor of the old ZoomInfo building to create a “collaboration center”, a sleek, modern space with cubicles and whiteboards. Employees can book conference rooms on a touchscreen in the lobby, not far from the wall of Christmas cards sent by employees who may never set foot inside the building. Upstairs is a ‘Concentration Floor’ with desks that can be booked via a QR code and a ‘Quiet Workspace’ at one end. The third floor, which is used for storage, will be sublet. Outside, the large parking lot is largely empty.

There is room for 250 people, but only about 20 to 30 per day come in now, said Sara Emerson, manager of the company’s concierge services and one of three people who show up daily to manage the place.

Including the reduction of space in Europe and the closure of its Washington, DC office, Cimpress reduced its floor space by nearly 300,000 square feet – with further declines expected. That’s a savings of $ 9 million per year on rent, utilities, and maintenance, of which $ 7 million is initially invested in the company’s remote work experience.

The hiring process is much more robust than it used to be, said Brittany Sohns, head of remote onboarding, who is part of a new team of seven remotely and works out of Gloucester. New employees – the company has 14,000 people worldwide – embark on a 100-day program, taking courses on the 360Learning platform to learn more about the company’s history and taking training sessions. training as “Remote Wellbeing” via Udemy.

Cimpress has moved its network operations center to the cloud so that the IT team can monitor corporate websites and systems from anywhere in the world. Instead of a gym, employees get a $ 600 discount on a Peleton bike and a third off the monthly membership. Everyone also gets $ 500 to set up a home office and $ 100 per month to pay for Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and other services provided by the company.

So far everything seems to be working. In a survey conducted in October, the employee engagement score was four times higher than in 2019. The number of job applicants has quadrupled since the company first moved away, in part because there are fewer geographic limitations.

“I think the hybrid is maybe almost the worst place to land because you’re kind of stuck in the middle,” said Quinn, CFO of Cimpress. Her company has chosen to go beyond it and go remote first, which means it is on the edge. “And that doesn’t mean we’re going to be right,” he said.

Between the tight job market and the new habits formed during the pandemic, where people work now depends on them, in a way, not the company, Quinn said.

It’s too early to say how the grand experience of remote working will play out, but for Cimpress, at least, there’s no looking back.

Katie Johnston can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on twitter @ktkjohnston.

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