When we think about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the real estate industry one, (frankly huge) question comes to mind: Do we really need offices anymore? And if not, how will the office sector pivot?
In the world of social distancing, many of the world’s office workers have not seen their desks for weeks. But when coronavirus lockdowns finally ease, there may be fewer desks to return to.
Facing a sudden need to cut costs, chief executives have indicated in recent days that their property portfolios look like good places to start given the ease with which their companies have adapted to remote set-ups.
Businesses depend on people and knowledge to operate successfully. Office space is the primary place where the transfer of knowledge occurs, and it’s second only to salaries as the largest expense for most organizations.
And that is rapidly changing. The quality of the experience matters.
As architects and interior designers, we find ourselves surveying a landscape of large office buildings to house work forces that, today, are more distributed and mobile than ever before. After all, technology has had a significant impact on the way we operate. Now, we can work from any location – well, as long as we have a cell phone signal.
Plus, younger staffers entering the work force are not using office space the way their parents did. The big office is no longer the perk it once was; instead, what is important to these generations is the quality of their interaction. They increasingly are evolving today’s work place by defining how, when, where, and with whom they want to work.
So, the question becomes, do we really need office space? And, if we do, how will it be different in the future?
Coronavirus will likely change the way office space looks and works
Working from home all the time is not for everyone, and many will want to return to the office. As the public health crisis continues, however, office space will probably have to be altered in order for people to feel safe being there. That could mean a reversal of the open office trend.
That could mean more private spaces or personal offices for individuals, and more distance between desks. Rather than desk setups that face each other or are right next to each other, we might now be positioned to our colleague’s backs with more space between us. A conference room that normally fit 10 people might now only hold chairs for five. Expect greater spacing and fewer seating options in communal areas like kitchens as well.
We don’t need to look farther than our personal lives to see why working from an office isn’t always the best approach. Of course many argue that offices are great for fostering communication and collaboration and some offices are gorgeous with fantastic amenities ranging from on-site laundry and massages to childcare and grocery shopping!
However, the reality is that even a small distance impacts employee communication and collaborations. Once employees are 200 feet away (or more) from each other, the chances of them talking to one another is virtually zero; you might as well have employees be hundreds of miles away.
The point here isn’t to say that face-to-face communication is dead, because it isn’t, and we certainly don’t want to get rid of human contact (at least most of us). Instead organizations need to implement more flexible work environments for employees to allow them to decide how they want to work.
For example, some organizations are implementing “pop-up work spaces,” which means that when meetings need to happen they can be arranged at mutually convenient co-working locations where a conference room can be rented for as much time as needed. This isn’t about removing face-to-face communication it’s about not relying on that as the only option.
I’m sure you can add to the list above as well, but the overall trend is that we no longer need to rely on corporate offices as the only place where we can get work done.