Pre-pandemic, workplace design trended towards open floor plans, shared work space, and low barriers to maintain transparency. Work areas were often trimmed to the bare minimum in an effort to eliminate wasted space, with exorbitant rents creating pressure to maximize every square foot.
To counterbalance these cramped conditions, large companies enticed talent with substantial perks and amenities. Gourmet food offerings, gaming rooms, bike and car washing facilities, and even on-site spa services and daycare centers became incentives to draw talent. The trade-off – crowded work space with frequent disruptions from nearby coworkers – now comes with a potential health risk, as COVID-19 has proven to spread rapidly among people in close proximity for extended periods of time.
Moving forward, the goal will no longer be to fit as many people into as small of a footprint as possible. Floor plans will be more spacious, with ample room to socially distance. Enclosed offices, outdoor open air collaboration zones, and enhanced indoor air quality systems will be smart investments to keep employees healthy. Modernizing conference rooms to provide larger space for social distancing and the latest in video conferencing technology for remote attendees means clients stay safe as well.
According to Dana Mattioli and Konrad Putzier of the Wall Street Journal, allowing remote work does not mean traditional office spaces will cease to exist. “Leases are hard to tear up, and few companies want to ditch the office altogether”, opting instead to restructure traditional work schedules, reposition office space, and relocate to suburban areas. In addition, Mattioli and Putzier claim “some executives say offering the option to work from home keeps employees happy and helps attract better job candidates”, making the change beneficial to both employees and employers.
Another benefit to our abrupt change in work style has been a recognition of how powerful employee collaboration is for efficiently moving projects forward – and how effectively this can be accomplished even with remote work. Meaningful interactions were once believed to be the result of in-person, face-to-face discussion; however, our employees have proven they can be effective and efficient from home. Technology has been embraced to keep collaboration and creativity constant, and quality work is being delivered. Customized laptops enhanced with sophisticated design capabilities are replacing bulky desktops to allow employees to easily transition from office to home, as well as to have increased flexibility with where they work in the future. Even as workplace restrictions ease, staggering employees to have some working from home and some in office will strategically reduce overall office density.
While COVID-19 is upending work space as we know it, it will likely impact other real estate sectors as well. Notably, multifamily housing design will embrace a live-work lifestyle with designated work space in-unit as well as common area business amenities such as Zoom rooms, enclosed workstations, and work bars to accommodate virtual meetings and remote work. Such efficient design and innovative amenities will be attractive to tenants looking for alternative work space options.
As we navigate a global pandemic, how we live and work may be permanently altered for the better. We now know that remote working, video meetings, and efficient, high-quality design can keep us healthy, happy, and safe.