Social capital: an essential aspect of hybrid working

Integrating the virtual and physical working environment is vital to combat the downside of working from home

For many organisations, working from home is rapidly becoming a permanent part of the business strategy. As a result, companies are starting to explore ways of saving costs by cutting back on their office space. Both are logical consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. But saving on real estate without investing in a hybrid workplace strategy can severely impact an organisation’s social capital. And this in turn can undermine key success factors such as corporate culture, innovative strength, productivity and socio-professional cohesion. These are the main conclusions reached by international real estate advisor CBRE in its whitepaper Hybrid working: risks, opportunities and the importance of balance.

Online office

This far into the COVID crisis, most organisations have coped by coming up with an online version of their ‘normal’ way of working. In terms of the five levels of virtual working in the figure below, most companies are at Level 2: replicating standard office practice from home using remote solutions. Many – but not all – employees recognise the benefits of this: less travel time, more productive working days and greater flexibility. However, there is also a downside – one that is increasingly manifesting itself in higher stress levels, reduced commitment to the organisation, longer working hours and disruption to the work-life balance.


“The real question is not whether you can cover the basics while working from home. In recent months, the Netherlands has proved that it can meet that challenge quickly and effectively enough. But that’s exactly why we have to examine the nature of what is happening and how things are likely to pan out in the long term. Many organisations are struggling to transition from a ‘binary’, either-or mindset to sustainable integration of the virtual and physical working environment,” observes Wouter Oosting, Senior Director of Workplace Strategy & Innovation at CBRE.

Asynchronous operations

“To function properly, we need to reach Level 3 or 4, both of which require employees to collaborate on a more asynchronous basis. Get that right and it no longer matters who works when and from which location. The important thing is that everyone knows what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. Each company – and company culture – therefore has to give careful consideration to the balance between the individual needs of employees and those of the organisation. It is vital that we achieve a well-designed hybrid workplace strategy that preserves the benefits of working from home while eliminating its potentially harmful drawbacks,” says Oosting.

A sense of connection

Businesses are already starting to think about downsizing their offices. “Companies can see the opportunity to cut costs, a logical consequence of staff working from home on a large scale,” Oosting explains. “But it is essential that they think strategically and adapt the design and functionality of their offices to the new reality they are facing.”

One of the key functions of an office is to bolster a company’s social capital. “For many organisations, the office is the place where people meet and connect: the ideal place to collaborate creatively,” Oosting points out. “An employee’s intrinsic motivation to go to the office every day has much less to do with production, output and targets and everything to do with the desire to belong and to be part of a greater whole. In the post-COVID world, even a downsized office will still need to create the right environment to facilitate a sense of connection and a spirit of collaboration.”


Check also: The Next Normal - A Complete Guide to How Hybrid Work is Impacting the Workplace and Transforming Commercial Real Estate


About CBRE

CBRE Group, Inc. (NYSE:CBRE), a Fortune 500 and S&P 500 company headquartered in Los Angeles, is the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm (based on 2019 revenue). The company has more than 100,000 employees (excluding affiliates) and serves real estate investors and occupiers through more than 530 offices (excluding affiliates) worldwide. CBRE offers a broad range of integrated services, including facilities, transaction and project management; property management; investment management; appraisal and valuation; property leasing; strategic consulting; property sales; mortgage services and development services. Please visit our website at