Adnan Zai, Advisor to Berkeley Capital located in Beachwood, knows the connections that are created and solidified by working in-person with co-workers in an office. Although many companies were working from home during the pandemic, and then instituted a hybrid model of work after the pandemic waned, more and more companies have recently tried to get workers back in the office. Adnan Zai spoke to us recently about the push for many companies to move away from working at home and back to in-office collaboration.

Mary Kraven: Although many parts of the country have seemingly gotten back on track since Covid-19 shuttered the world, corporate offices are still struggling for balance. Employees realized the freedom and lower stress that come from working at home, while company heads think being in the office is more viable and are trying to figure out how to get people back to stay. Despite the best efforts of executives to return workers to the office, the numbers continue to drop.

According to Time Magazine, “The share of people in the office full time dropped to 42% in the second quarter of 2023, down from 49% in the first quarter, according to The Flex Report, which collects insights from more than 4,000 companies employing more than 100 million people globally. Meanwhile, the share of offices with hybrid work arrangements hit 30% in the quarter, up from 20% the previous quarter.”

In light of these numbers, do you think it is important for employees to be in the office?

Adnan Zai: Although the work from home model was positive during the pandemic, and kept everyone safe, there are certain intangible benefits for workers and companies that can only be found when employees are working together in the office. You can see that many companies who have touted working from home, such as Amazon and Google, are now asking employees to come into the office, at least to come in three days a week. This is a clear sign that work is done better in the office.

Mary Kraven: Yes, as you mention, hybrid work is gaining popularity. Robert Sadow, the CEO and co-founder of Scoop Technologies, which created the Flex report I mentioned earlier, said “It certainly looks like hybrid is gaining share. There’s an adoption cycle like any other technology—you have early adopters and laggards.” Sadow asserts that companies are moving to a “structured hybrid” model, where employees are required to come into the office on a set number of days, the average being 2.53. Tuesday is the most popular day required, while only 24% require employees in the office on Monday.

How can this “structured hybrid” model be good for business?

Adnan Zai: If a company instructs its employees to be in the office three days a week, and structures it so that they are all there on the same three days, then the relationships between the employees can blossom. This is especially important for new employees, as they need mentorship and camaraderie as they get their feet wet in the business. But this helps the entire set of employees because creativity and outside-of-the-box thinking often happen in those “hallway moments” that just cannot happen on Google Meet or Zoom calls.

Mary Kraven: Google shows that it is the best of both worlds. “Our hybrid approach is designed to incorporate the best of being together in person with the benefits of working from home for part of the week. Now that we’re more than a year into this way of working, we’re formally integrating this approach into all of our workplace policies,” Google spokesperson Ryan Lamont said.

Adnan Zai: Like I said, companies need the face time together in order to get the job done.

Mary Kraven: Definitely, and it is interesting to see some giant companies change course on this. Facebook-parent Meta’s employees, for instance, had been working from home but in March, Mark Zuckerberg hinted that he would be updating the attendance policy because engineers who work in person just tend to get more done. Meta “doubled down last week on its push to get workers in the office, warning that employees currently assigned to an office must return to in-person work three days a week starting this September.“

Zuckerberg said, “Our early analysis of performance data suggests that engineers who either joined Meta in-person and then transferred to remote or remained in-person performed better on average than people who joined remotely. This analysis also shows that engineers earlier in their career perform better on average when they work in-person with teammates at least three days a week.”

Has this been your experience?

Adnan Zai: Although the real estate investment industry is certainly different from engineering, when employees share an office, the communication flows more easily and smoothly. At Berkeley Capital’s Beachwood office, we are able to get more accomplished in person without the added stress of getting on Zoom calls or waiting for another key player to chime in to finalize a deal. Proximity matters a lot in the fast-paced investment world. Our modus operandi is to be in the office four days a week, with one remote day. This has worked well, as Berkeley’s principals have raised and deployed over US$1B in private equity with zero defaults.

Mary Kraven: Yes, you certainly have shown that at Berkeley Capital’s Beachwood office this model is working. Heads of companies are still struggling with the idea of how to get people back to the office, without using punitive measures. Although the perks like free lunches, massages and fancy coffees that companies like Google have used to lure workers back to the office have all but disappeared, many companies aren’t being so nice about insisting that employees return to the office. Companies are still trying to make in-office working more palatable.

Salesforce, the largest tech employer based in San Francisco, has hit upon an interesting way to get its 12,000 employees back in the office. Fortune recently reported that the company will donate $10 to local charities for every day an employee comes into the office between June 12 and 23. This offer also extends to attendance at company events.

“Giving back is deeply embedded in everything we do, and we’re proud to introduce Connect for Good to encourage employees to help raise $1 million for local nonprofits,” Annie Vincent, director of corporate communications at Salesforce, said. This is certainly out-of-the-box thinking!

What is your take on this?

Adnan Zai: Although some of these perks and ideas to lure workers back into the office can come across as gimmicky, donating to those who are less fortunate will help the charities, and also bridge the gap of workers trying to get back to the office.

Mary Kraven: Although there are definitely some positives in programs like this, not everyone is happy with these new models. Recently Amazon workers walked out in response to the mandate that they spend more days in the office. Leaders know that it will take time for workers to adjust, but Amazon is “happy with how the first month of having more people back in the office has been” and applauded the extra “energy, collaboration, and connections happening” in the office.

Adnan Zai: If you want to be successful in your career, you need to go where the action is. In this case, it is infinitely easier to work inside the office than it is to work at home. At Berkeley Capital, we have struck a solid balance of four days in the Beachwood office, and our track record speaks for itself.

Mary Kraven: Thank you for your time and insight, Adnan Zai. We truly appreciate both!