Reimagining the Workplace for the Post-COVID World
The future of office spaces appeared to be on shaky ground in 2020 as work from home became the new normal. Sales of industrial, multi-family, and special purpose commercial real estate were on the rise, while office space took a sharp turn downward. By February of 2021, office space started making a comeback, and the conversation shifted to how companies can rethink their workplace layouts to meet the needs of post-COVID expectations.
The physical office is still important, but employers and employees alike recognize that the future workplace will need to support flexibility and provide a welcoming environment. The traditional 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM from Monday through Friday in the office is no longer the only option available to employees who can effectively work remotely. Additionally, employers will have greater success at bringing employees back into the office when they offer amenities that make the workplace an inviting and compelling space.
Employers are now faced with the challenge of accommodating shifting workplace expectations, while still having to provide an environment that best supports their company’s goals and objectives. It begins by reimagining what the future of the workplace looks like in a post-COVID world.
Will Hybrid Offices Become the New Normal?
Remote work, already on the upswing before COVID, quickly accelerated as soon as lockdown orders went into effect. According to a recent survey from GitLab, 42% of workers reported an increase in productivity when working remotely, and 38% said they were more efficient. However, not everyone shared the same experience. Some employees find working from home distracting, and feel disengaged from their company and teams. A hybrid model appears to be the best solution to support productivity and worker engagement, while allowing for flexibility.
Hybrid work models are the direction many companies are heading, believing that a balance of in-person and in-office is an option that offers something for everyone. A McKinsey survey found that 9 out of 10 companies plan to offer a hybrid work option, and the vast majority expect hybrid is the future of the workplace. Additionally, it allows companies to more seamlessly transition out of a fully remote model as vaccines become more widely available.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to hybrid workplaces, and companies must carefully consider what best supports their objectives. For example, some companies find it beneficial to provide an ecosystem that enables people to work from anywhere, including from home, the office, or a coworking space. Other companies must carefully craft schedules that bring together teams needing to work together at the same time, or to enable shared workspaces.
Companies must also consider company culture and how a hybrid model changes the camaraderie that’s built when people see each other in person during much of the week. Those bonds give employees a deeper sense of purpose and belonging when at work, but can be difficult to replicate when employees work remotely. Hybrid offers the opportunity for in-person relationships to develop.
Data Reveals People are Eager to Get Back to the Office
Over the last year, many companies went completely remote or reduced the capacity of in-office workers. Reports claimed we were witnessing an irreversible cultural shift away from in-person offices, and there was great uncertainty around whether office occupancy would go back to pre-pandemic levels. Now, as the economy rebounds and vaccines become more widely available, data is showing that people are eager to get back into the office.
In a recent impact study published by CoStar and written by Randyl Drummer, Mike Kamm, who led Cushman & Wakefield’s northwest U.S. region before joining Seagate Properties Inc. in 2019, expressed confidence that office leasing will come back. Other major firms like CBRE, JLL and Cushman & Wakefield reported growth across all property types.
A report from Prudential found that the majority of people prefer the hybrid model, and 2 in 3 workers believe in-person interactions are important for career growth. The report also found that fully remote workers felt less entitled to take a vacation and believed they must be available around the clock. 1 in 4 workers felt isolated, and reported this as a major challenge. Ultimately most workers want flexibility, but do not want to give up the benefits available from working in-person with colleagues.
Providing a Safe Workplace in 2021 and Beyond
Transitioning back to the in-person workplace requires companies to effectively protect employee health and make employees feel safe. Safety measures taken now will ultimately serve companies well into the future. Basic measures include heightened sanitization and deep cleaning, more space between workstations, and upgrades in HVAC systems for improved air filtration. Good ventilation with optimal HVAC systems has been proven to curb the spread of COVID and other viruses, even in spaces with a lot of people. “Leveraging the capabilities and understanding the limitations of your existing HVAC system, while making smart, data-supported decisions about safety enhancements to the office environment can be a highly effective, economic means for improving the safety of your employees,” says G. David Von Derau, President & Chief Operating Officer of McGuire Development Company, LLC.
People are now more aware than ever of how their physical environment is connected to their overall wellness. Companies that present employees with an environment committed to their health and safety will find it easier to attract and retain top tier employees.
Smart Office Buildings to Support Safe and Healthy Workplaces
Smart office buildings were on the rise in 2019, with much of that technology being accelerated as a result of the pandemic. Automation and sensor technologies are in demand, and many companies are looking into how to integrate smart, connected systems. These include things like touchless services, screening processes, self-opening doors, contactless elevator buttons, and voice-activated equipment among many other smart building features.
The office of the future will look vastly different as companies increasingly adopt smart building technologies.
Motivating Employees with More Appealing Workspaces
As companies start bringing employees back into the office after more than a year of working from home, some are taking employee health and wellness to the next level. Prudential’s recent survey of the American worker found that 1 in 4 workers is planning to look for an opportunity with a new employer. According to a recent Forbes article, and at the top of the list is a company culture that embraces benefits and an environment that supports employee well-being.
A hybrid work model is one way to support this, but companies also need to consider how employees feel when they are in the office. Additionally, some companies simply cannot offer a hybrid model. In both instances, many companies are having to take an honest look at the environment they expect employees to spend their time in. Are they in windowless offices all day? Are they working from cubicle stations? Do they have regular access to natural light? Is there an appealing spot to take a break?
As employers begin to reimagine the office of the future, they are looking at what they can offer that is unique and better than the experience of working remotely. Amenities that focus on creating a welcoming environment are becoming a top priority. These can include a range of investment from small to big, such as snack stations, dedicated outdoor space, quiet zones, fitness centers, meditation rooms, and so much more.
Some companies are taking on full remodels and reorganization of their office footprint. They are looking to provide open floor plans with options for private offices when needed, more natural light, and even water elements, aromatherapy, and progressive design that focus on bringing a more natural environment indoors. According to Danielle Shainbrown, President & Chief Business Officer of McGuire Development Company, “well before the pandemic, in 2018, McGuire Development Company designed its office space with all of these tenets in mind. Since moving into our current space, the McGuire team has consulted with many clients on ways to economically reconfigure their existing office footprints with alternative furniture layouts to maximize spaciousness, safety, and employee satisfaction, while maintaining or increasing productivity.” The office transformation does not need to be costly, time consuming, or a full gut and rehab. Simple changes like adjusted cubicle layouts, allowing core office employees to access natural light through exterior windows, installation of light tubes, and enhanced air circulation are cost effective changes that make meaningful impacts on the overall environment.
The Future of the Office is Flexible
While there is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has irreversibly changed the traditional American office, companies will ultimately have to customize their workplace to align with their specific objectives. Companies will have to facilitate a return to the office that feels positive for employees, but also supports their long term visions and competitiveness in the marketplace.
If the pandemic has taught us anything about our physical workspace, it’s that there truly is no one solution that works for everyone. Company and employee needs and expectations are highly individual, and require an understanding of where the two overlap in order to create a happy and productive environment.
Contact our team to discuss how we can help your workplace needs!