The Post COVID Workplace: What’s next for office design?
In just a few months, COVID-19 has completely transformed the way industries around the globe operate. As society continues to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances, so must our workplaces. So, what does the post-pandemic commercial office look like? STO launched a design impact taskforce to assess what real estate, design, and construction experts are saying. Here are some of their findings.
MORE FLEXIBILITY, LESS SPACE
While the physical workspace isn’t going anywhere any time soon, the pandemic has forced many companies to take a closer look at what it means to operate with a fully remote workforce—and the general consensus is productivity hasn’t suffered. With more and more employers offering their staff the flexibility of working from home regularly, companies will need to adjust their real estate strategies to reflect this shift. This could mean companies focus their resources on several small regional offices dispersed through a metropolitan area, rather than one large headquarters.
CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD: Many companies are coming to the realization that some percentage of their workforce will never come back to an office environment—they will be permanent remote workers. This shift is going to have a significant impact on how companies think about office space, the real-estate foot-print, infrastructure, and the technology that is going to have to be in place long-term to support the new work paradigm.
NELSON: Workplace conference rooms and coworking amenities will continue to be rethought to best enable elevated, and productive, virtual meetings with remote workers and across office locations.
Digital solutions in the workplace are by no means a new concept in commercial real estate, but with a renewed focus on infection control, design-ers are reexamining how technology in the office might impact the health and safety of the workforce. From pushing the elevator call buttons in the building lobby to using a touchscreen kiosk to order coffee, shared surfaces, equipment, and touchscreens are everywhere in the modern office. Now, designers are exploring touchless alternatives, like facial recognition, motion sensors, virtual assistants, and mobile apps, to enable employees to continue interacting with their work environments without the risk of cross-contamination.
GENSLER: We don’t fully know how the pandemic will reshape the workplace, but we do know it is accelerating digital transformation and faster adoption of workplace technology. Just as the rapid shift to remote work prompted us to think about how we interact with our virtual work environments, we should take this moment to rethink how we interact with our physical workplaces, once we return to them.
JLL: Consider how app-based solutions or Bluetooth wearables might also enforce safe distance standards, with gentle reminders when individuals get too close. Another benefit is that employees could opt-in to share location data to enable contact tracking and help prevent the spread of infection.
THE NEW OPEN OFFICE
Before COVID-19, commercial office design was trending towards big, bright, and open office environments with shared amenity spaces meant to breed social interaction and collaboration between colleagues. However, as companies slowly begin returning to their offices, it’s clear employers must rethink how they utilize an open workplace. Whether it’s leveraging furniture to encourage physical separation and distancing, designing wider corridors for safer two-way circulation, or altering the way the work-force operates within the space, open environment offices will need to be de-densified when companies return to full strength.
NELSON: To emulate the ways in which we’ve been able to completely control our work environments while at home, furniture providers will continue to consider how workstations can be modular, flexible, and customizable to accommodate individuals’ preferred modes and styles of working.
CBRE: As they quickly evolve to meet this new demand, physical workplaces will act as the hub that works in concert with remote nodes (employee homes, field and branch locations, etc.) to orchestrate a hybrid effort that most effectively supports the pursuit of cultural and business goals.
A FOCUS ON WELLNESS
Employee wellness is another key piece of the new workplace conversation. From checking in with staff on a personal level to allowing employees to work from home more regularly long-term, employers everywhere are trying to maintain a positive and healthy mindset amongst their staff. But the lasting effects of COVID-19 will be reflected in the physical well-being of employees as well. The pandemic has highlight-ed how crucial elements within the workplace, like indoor air quality, access to outdoor spaces, and the cleanliness of the office, can directly impact the physical health of the workforce.
GENSLER: Since average Americans spend upwards of 90% of their time indoors, with the majority of working hours spent in an office setting, incorporating design features that contribute to a healthier office building can have a potentially major impact on their well-being. For example, an EPA report found that installing a system designed to improve indoor air quality in an office can lead to higher productivity, fewer lost workdays, and savings in medical care costs.