The global pandemic has changed the way we live, relax and work. It has disrupted our lives in all spheres. And we have had to adapt temporarily at first, but some measures seem to want to remain permanent.
This is the case in the world of work, and more specifically in terms of office space. Indeed, Work-From-Home has become an efficient and productive solution for many companies, and experts in the field agree that it will still be relevant when people return to the office.
The post-COVID workspaces will have to change in in order to optimize for profitability while still getting high-performance work environments. The space will need to be adapted to make sure they are relevant with the new work habits developed during the course of the pandemic.
What will tomorrow’s office spaces look like? Several experts, including Marc-André La Barre, President of Lib. Workspace Inc. have been working on this subject since the beginning of the pandemic.
Here is the result of their thinking to date:
Flexible office space
The workplace must be a place that fosters creativity, sharing and innovation.
WFH is now well established and offers many advantages, the main one being work-life balance. Also, employees have developed a taste for it and employers have gained confidence. However, according to a recent Steelcase1 study, workers reported that their most significant challenges in working from home included a 75% sense of social isolation and a 14% decrease in their engagement to the company.
So, to ensure good collaboration, team cohesion and optimal engagement within the organization, returning to the office is essential for everyone. First, the work schedule will for sure take a different form. This Gallup study shows that 2 or 3 days of WFH is optimal for employee engagement2.
To respond to this new reality, many companies will need to reduce their office space relying on collaborative spaces, shared desks, and the efficiency and productivity of employees working from home.
As a result, a dedicated workstation will no longer be the cornerstone of the office in the future. Workplaces will move from a place of personal and focused work to a place of collaborative activities and team building. Taking into account these new uses and activities, the post-COVID workplace will require different types of spaces – more lounges, WELL EQUIPED meeting rooms, open and collaborative spaces, etc. – to foster interaction and a sense of community.
Innovative companies in sectors as diverse as technology (e.g. Dropbox) and financial services are developing plans to remove individual offices and renovate their workspace to include only meeting rooms and lounges for work and collaborative activities. Workers are being asked to do their individual work during their period of work at home.
A new safe environment
More than ever before, employees’ expectations from their organization have increased and they will demand safe and secure workplaces to return to. Thus, a healthy workplace that promotes physical, mental and emotional well-being will be essential not only for attraction and retention but also for employee engagement and development.
Employees’ health and well-being
The health and well-being of employees will therefore be at the heart of tomorrow’s office design and use. Indeed, the human factor will be put forward in this new normality and managers will have to take into consideration the psychological and emotional condition of their employees.
Clearly, the safety of employees will have to be respected. Thus, the standards of social distancing applicable to the office will result in a lower density of employees per square foot (150 sq. ft. per employee minimum) and larger common spaces.
Air quality (including, for example, humidity level, fresh air supply, air filtration, etc.), as well as maintenance and filtration in ducts (with aerosols, ultraviolet rays, antimicrobial filters, bipolar ionization, UV lamps), could therefore be implemented in office buildings to guarantee the health and well-being of its occupants.
Biophilic elements, such as natural daylight and access to the outdoors, will also need to be taken into account.
Technological advances to be taken into consideration
The various building automation systems and the use of virtual PDAs for enterprise applications3 (ex.: app to manage workstation and meeting room reservation) as well as new emerging technologies in buildings, such as sensor-activated space awareness
technology, will need to be taken into account in the design and layout of tomorrow’s buildings and workspaces.
Contactless equipment for the safe return of employees will need to be taken seriously into consideration. Indeed, implementing automation systems will allow employees to safely perform several actions such as opening doors, controlling elevators, turning on/off lights, adjusting temperature, opening and closing blinds, etc., without risk.
In addition, videoconference meetings with employees or clients will be more frequent. As a result, meeting rooms will have to be well adapted to these new technologies in terms of speakers, microphones, cameras, screens, specific lighting, acoustics and furniture (adapted according to the camera’s field of vision). In fact, to give teams a good reason to come to the office, it is essential to provide videoconferencing equipment that is more efficient than what would be possible for them at home.
How can we successfully finance these changes?
As leases expire, organizations could easily expect to reduce their space by 20 to 30% through optimization and remote work. This will free up significant sums of money that can be reinvested in the development of new, better adapted and better-equipped workspaces.3
E.x.: 3,000sf saved on 10,000sf @ $25/sf X 5 years = $375,000.
Result: $375,000 in budget to adapt the spaces, at no additional cost to the organization pre-COVID budget. Not to mention that when the lease is renewed, landlords will certainly offer Tenant Improvement dollars for any modification to the space.
In the meantime, many companies could save a lot of money by offering shared or unassigned positions and thus optimize the yield per square foot of their space while subletting any unused space. For example, a 120 square foot office that is not used represents a net expense of $15,000 for a 5-year lease at $25/sf.
All major crises bring about major changes, whether on a social, personal or professional level, on the way people act in society, their relationship to work, etc. The world pandemic of Covid-19 leads to a new professional normality.
Thus, organizations who will know how to adapt and innovate in their conception of workspaces and in the organization of work itself, while placing the health and well-being of their employees at the forefront, will be the big winners.