With more and more people receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, case numbers dwindling and non-essential businesses opening up for foot traffic, a return to ‘normal’ is close at hand. But many things will look decidedly different in the business world from a year ago, especially when it comes to post-pandemic offices.
In the wake of an unprecedented global pandemic, employees vacated their offices and began working remotely from home (many for the first time). What was once a decade-long emerging trend, accelerated into the mainstream and gained widespread acceptance in the workplace for the first time. Despite concerns over a loss of productivity, a long-standing hurdle among employers, unsupervised workforces often met expectations or were even more efficient than their in-office counterparts.
That raises the question, does the office still have a place in the future? If so, what form will office space take and how can businesses leverage it to drive their business towards success?
In short, yes. But it will be a balancing act.
Pre-pandemic state of offices
Working remotely is not a new phenomenon. Many best employer rankings have a section dedicated to it and companies often provide a formal work from home program to attract top talent.
However, due to the limitations of technology, such as low adoption rates and availability of high-speed internet, people could only be so effective away from the office. Outside of a handful of tasks, if they wanted to collaborate, connect with colleagues and clients, or just plain overhear things, people needed to come in.
And yet, many employees often embrace the prospect of not coming into the workplace. From long commutes to the archaic working conditions and lack of privacy in these spaces, there are many outstanding things about the office that could and should function better.
When the pandemic hit and tethered us to our homes, these issues were magnified. It got people thinking: Why would I go back to the office and deal with these hurdles again, when I am enjoying this much flexibility?
Are office spaces on the verge of extinction?
According to data from the market researcher IDC, at the height of the pandemic, more than half of the entire U.S. workforce did its jobs at home, up from single digits prior to Covid-19. With so many office workers forced into these conditions for so long, it’s fair to say that we became accustomed to the home environment.
However, this isn’t the final straw for offices. If anything, there will be a resurgence, once companies find a way to better utilize the space. After speaking with friends and business associates, I can tell that there is a real itch to return to the office. Being away for so long has fostered a new found appreciation of reimagining the workplace and being together.
That shouldn’t be a surprise – people are social creatures and crave that human connection, perhaps even more so after all this physical separation. It’s just a matter of companies striking the right balance.
A premium, hybrid experience
The future of the post-pandemic workplace is hybrid. According to Emergent Research, 15 to 18% of the workforce is likely to remain home-based once the pandemic subsides, with most workers operating on a hybrid model, splitting time between the office and home.
It’s a workplace model that combines the best of working remotely and being physically present in the office, without sacrificing flexibility. Employers can provide a unique experience that incorporates some of the comfort workers have grown accustomed to while working remotely the past year, with a particular focus on health and wellness in the workplace.
The key for workplaces will be to manage how the divide between remote and office life operates, such as determining how much time each worker dedicates to each type of task (i.e., phone calls). Projects that cannot be done or fully recreated in a remote environment will need to be done in the office, such as onboarding, training, meetings, team-building and face-to-face collaboration. Everything else that can be done remotely, should be, in order to better accommodate employees’ competing priorities (such as family).
Management and entrepreneurs will need to continue working with the human resources department to navigate any challenges, because there will be some problem solving. For example, companies need to settle on how to track the progress of virtual work as well as monitor how workers behave during meetings – the last thing you want is to have the in-person people dominate the conversation at the expense of the virtual members.
With the right balance, a company can expect to see tangible benefits.
According to recent surveys, businesses that took a hybrid approach saw that many workers managed their time better, are more cognizant of their colleagues’ workload and are overall more satisfied with their jobs.
Postmodern vision for post-pandemic offices
Despite all of the changes going on around us, especially when it comes to commercial real estate, there’s still a future for office spaces in the post-pandemic world, given a few adjustments.
The key word here is “environment.” As I mentioned before, when the post pandemic dust settles, we’ll likely see a hybrid model – a mixture of remote and in-office work. People still want to have the option to come in. Perhaps they will spend less time in the office overall, but when there, they will be producing a different quality and type of work. Flexibility will be important.
While there are many advantages to working remotely, there are still certain functions that are better suited for in-person work spaces. For example, no matter how advanced our technology becomes, it cannot easily replicate the feel of physical contact, overhearing things and connecting with people over a real discussion. Companies will want to make these spaces more hospitable and leverage this need to connect.
So, what does this mean? We need to make tweaks to the layout. Ideally, the office should look less like a workspace, with rows and rows of cubicles, and more like a place of community. You will need to make your office a more exciting place in which to spend time. As a knock on effect, with more engaged employees, you’ll see a boost in your company culture.
Experts predict that a premium will be placed on a clean working environment, with more stringent health protocols, upgraded air filters and filtration systems, occupancy maximums on elevators, sanitizing stations and directional signage where applicable.
What’s more, with fewer people in the office at any given time, you can create more space, add more lounge furniture and features such as a ping pong table. You should also put a renewed focus on the kitchen area as a shared space and working environment for collaboration. Team members can enjoy meals together and connect with one another, but also open laptops up and discuss projects. Kitchens can be a strong centre
Need more? If you’re an entrepreneur with questions about remote work, managing a hybrid workforce and maximizing your office space (or any other topic for that matter), I want to hear from you. Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.