RETURNING TO WORK WILL MEAN MORE SPACE, FEWER PEOPLE AND MANY POSSIBILITIES
By: Sandy Frinton, PULSE Editor
When employees return to work in the short- and longer-term, the office environment won’t be the same as the one they left behind before the pandemic – and that can be positive for companies and their workforces.
Expect a big reboot and not much to look or feel the same in the workplace. IAOP member experts working for the world’s largest commercial real estate firms predict that there will be fewer people, more space and plenty of opportunities for companies to reinvent themselves for the future.
Peter Ankerstjerne, Global Facility Management & Experience Services Lead, Global Operations Corporate Solutions, JLL notes that the entire workplace experience is undergoing dramatic change that will only continue.
“As we reimagine the workplace of the future and begin to bring people back to the office, we will need to account for social distancing and care for the health and wellbeing of the workforce at a level we have not seen before,” he says. “The office is changing and it seems there is no going back of the old ways before the crisis.”
Kevin C. Hughes, Regional Managing Principal, Cushman Wakefield, adds, “For many large, global firms, we believe that the future purpose of the office will be to convene your workforce to collaborate, learn, innovate and socialize. It will be much less of a place to do individual focused work. Leaders now realize that we can do that anywhere.”
“The office environment is going to be reset to be COVID-ready and reflect best practices,” says Karen Ellzey, Executive Managing Director of Consulting for Global Workplace Solutions, CBRE.
Ellzey sees more hybrid work environments emerging where going into the office will become “a destination” versus “a duty to show up at your desk every day.”
According to Kate North, Vice President, Workplace Advisory, Colliers, “the workplace can become an experience to connect, engage, feel the culture, innovate, and build relationships and team cohesion. I believe the offices of the future will be more alive and collaborative…a place you WANT to be.”
The New Norms
The IAOP real estate experts note that COVID-19 has accelerated the workplace changes that already were underway. Some of the key shifts that can be expected include:
- Fewer employees regularly going into the office as the Work from Home (WFH) movement sticks
- More open office areas to achieve social distancing and flexible use of existing space
- Reimagined spaces for collaboration and bringing employees together socially
- Greater focus on cleanliness, sanitation, air quality and building infrastructure
- Commitment to the health, safety and wellbeing of employees
- Increased use of touchless technology as well as digital and high-tech tools to connect people and enable collaboration
- Continued mask-wearing in public spaces
- Office design that better reflects company culture and brand
New Creative Approaches
Re-entry plans will hinge on many factors including government regulations and transmission rates for the virus. Many companies will bring back employees using staggered approaches and use reservation systems or other approaches to manage their occupancy levels.
Among the unique concepts being explored long-term by leading global occupiers of office space include:
- Hub and Club Model: JLL sees employees wanting to come into the office for different reasons than in the past and using this space to socialize, collaborate and be part of a team. Under this model, organizations will increasingly make satellite flexible spaces available for employees to use on-demand for work. Companies will use their central headquarters for socialization, meeting, and entertaining customers and guests.
- Corporate Firepit – Companies want to reconfigure spaces so that people can come together and still maintain the required social distances. One approach, according to CBRE, is recreating the sense of an outdoor firepit in a corporate setting.
- Scheduled Collaboration – Employees are doing a good job of working together remotely by scheduling collaboration time on specific projects. Cushman Wakefield says companies will need to support this with the best tech tools available and better coaching and mentoring while also working to foster a sense of community.
- Wellness Check-ins – According to Hughes of Cushman Wakefield, companies need to focus on staying connected to their teams and connecting teams and people to one another. Holding wellness meetings or informal check-ins to talk about how people are doing – instead of conversing about projects – will increasingly emerge.
Before COVID-19 hit, many companies already were beginning to realize the while physical spaces were important, offices were not configured to how their employees were working and that they may have too much square footage.
Corporations that had poor utilization or pending lease expirations may look to let go of space, but, at the same time, larger tech firms (including Facebook, Amazon and Google) have recently announced plans to increase their real estate footprints.
Companies need to plan for immediate needs during the pandemic but also have a long-term vision, making portfolio planning more essential, Ellzey notes.
On the positive side, more options are available in real estate than ever before with co-working and service offices and more flexible arrangements, allowing companies to be more agile, she says.
“There's never been a better time to be wrong,” Ellzey says. “If you release space but then you find that you need some back, there are options and space solutions on the market that give a lot more flexibility than was the case previously.”
With the physical location of the workplace being less of a determining factor in job choice, the changes already implemented and coming in the future will give employees more choice about the type of organization they want to work for. Companies that position themselves to attract the leading talent will have a competitive advantage going forward, the IAOP member experts predict.
“I have no doubt that companies who make the workplace changes now and quickly adapt to the situation will be the winners of tomorrow,” says Ankerstjerne, who also serves as chairman of the International Facility Management Association board.
“We are at an inflicting point now and those who are agile enough to make the necessary changes to attract a changing workforce, allow for new workstyles and adapt their workplaces accordingly will win the war for talent – and thus create a competitive advantage for the future,” he says.
More People-Centric and Collaborative Offices Could be Coming
While COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the notion of “work” and how and where it’s done, it also is opening the way for more collaborative, inspiring and people-centric workplace experiences in the future.
As companies plan their re-entries, what can employees expect and what vital role do they play in shaping the workplace change underway.
PULSE chatted with Peter Ankerstjerne, JLL’s Global Facility Management & Experience Services Lead and chairman of the International Facility Management Association board, about the exciting transformation he sees ahead.
What does the future of work and the workplace look like?
The future of work and the workplace have changed from what we believed just nine months ago, naturally due to the COVID-19 crisis. As we are reimagining the workplace of the future and beginning to bring people back to the office, we will need to account for social distancing and care for the health and wellbeing of the workforce at a level we have not seen before. The office is changing and it seems there is no going back to the old ways before the crisis.
More and more companies are using the situation to make some much-needed changes to the workplace environments, changes that were already happening before the pandemic but where the crisis acted as a catalyst and has accelerated the speed of change.
Workplaces will increasingly adapt to become more collaborative spaces, where employees come to learn, meet and collaborate with clients, peers and leadership. With the working from home revolution we have seen during the crisis, most organizations will continue to provide this opportunity for employees who wants to take advantage of this kind of work style and then adapt the workplace accordingly. This allows for flexibility and agility within the organization and a strong focus on maintaining a strong corporate culture now that you don’t have the ability to physically interaction with your workforce on a daily basis.
What should be considered in redesigning the space?
The workplace design will have to be upgraded according to these five key design principles to create spaces that:
- Allow teams to gather, plan and assign weekly tasks, exchange ideas and collaborate and grow
- Support interaction with clients during digital presentations and face-to-face negotiations
- Convey the essence of your brand and your company’s sense of community by incorporating multifunctional design
- Allow safe zones to ensure that users feel at ease, knowing that their health is important, achieved through appropriate furniture choices and ?nish selections
- Make use of technology at every turn; allow for a smart o?ce that is easy to use for employees and guests alike.
Will the office as we know it look the same at all?
In the short term, while we are still influenced by the social distancing, occupancy rates will be low – probably around 20 percent of the normal workforce will be at the office and many companies are bringing people back in a staggered phased approach. There will be a lot of space available, and new protocols around entry and exit, on how to move about the office and at the canteen. Offices will have increased sanitation and hygiene levels, which will be a very visible part of the daily office routines.
In the long term, after a vaccine is introduced, the workplace will be more flexible and collaborative, with a lot of both formal and informal meeting places. At JLL, we call it the Hub and Club model where organizations will increasingly make satellite flexible spaces available out of town so that employees can use them on demand and then use the central HQ offices for socializing, meeting customers and putting the people experience at the core of the workplace
How can companies engage employees and create community?
Organizations will need to rethink their collaboration spaces. Employees crave a mix of spaces at work for various tasks—spaces for everything from focused work, to impromptu and informal meetings, to formal meetings aligned to objectives but also allowing them to work from home (or really work from anywhere) if this is the most optimal situation for the individual employee.
Productivity and creativity don’t have to be at odds with each other. You can achieve both by building in as much flexibility and variability as possible into workspaces to support different styles of work. Choice is a great enabler; employees like to have options. Their needs won’t always stay the same; they are constantly evolving. With that in mind, movement is being built into more offices today by integrating a range of quiet and collaborative spaces, where employees can take a break from their desks or meet, collaborate, and socialize with coworkers.
It’s important to involve your employees in the design process and to ask them what works (and what doesn’t) in existing spaces. Small elements can have a big impact. Your employees hold all of the secrets. Designing an engaging environment has to start by first engaging them. What keeps them going at work? What kind of environments do they need access to? Technology and the influx of data are creating major disruptions, so consider how that is changing the way people work and what they need. Are your employees empowered with options?
Office design also needs to reflect your organization’s cultural values to inform employees and generate engagement. Does the work environment accurately mirror the company’s core values, or how have they changed, especially over the past half year? How does Work from Home (WFH) versus the Office design motivate employees to give their best effort? Asking these questions has a significant payoff: Companies that take the time to develop their culture to engage employees to experience a higher Return of Investment within the office design programs. Employees know better than anyone else what they need, so getting their input early on in the design process should be a top priority.
What should employees do and know to prepare?
First, accept that WFH is here to stay and will influence how we manage our teams and design our offices in the future. Second, get HR and IT more involved in Facility Management and Real Estate decisions not only as part of the “getting employees safely back to work” but also for the longer-term perspective in terms of how should we work in the future and how can we preserve the corporate identity and culture while our people are working from anywhere. Third, look at your building portfolio and evaluate if they are all fit for purpose – as the purpose of the workplace will change, so should your workplace strategy. This may include a higher focus on flex spaces to allow for more flexibility and an agile workforce in the future.