With more office staff being asked to work from home, one looming question for a large industry segment is what does the future of the office look like? Investors, owners and developers want assurances. Fortunately, there’s two certainties that may help to ease anxiety.
First, as humans, we crave in-person interaction, and can only really thrive in personally collaborative environments. Second, new safety protocols will demand a larger footprint in new and existing offices. The convergence of these two factors will likely lead to greater opportunities going forward.
Over the past few decades, several large companies have struggled to increase productivity through remote working. Though some organizations are claiming increased efficiency since the pandemic began, critics question whether remote working is a long-term solution. Burnout rates, isolation from coworkers and potential distractions at home are some of the concerns from CEOs analyzing remote workers.
With the benefits of remote working in dispute, commercial office space may continue to be necessary for businesses in every industry. Planning for the return of a company’s workforce during the pandemic requires immense planning. However, this also gives organizations an opportunity to reevaluate how they’ve conducted business thus far.
There’s already technology to rework large office spaces to maximize the number of employees that can safely fit. Depending on the way workstations are set up, companies may need to create barriers, stagger employee’s schedules that work near one another or physically move desks farther apart. Interior design plans already in use include a 6-foot circle of carpeting around desk areas to remind employees to social distance. Innovations in flexible working spaces are ideal for companies with excess space, however organizations with limited square footage may need to find alternative solutions, such as expanding their existing footprint or opening a secondary location.
Since 2009, office square footage per employee has dropped an average of 8% in an effort to maximize open layouts and cut costs. Now, we can expect this trend to reverse in a significant way. When the pandemic hit, these tight spaces could no longer accommodate the entire staff. Though it pertains to a much smaller pool of companies, moving into larger office space is one solution to maximize safe, face-to-face collaboration at work.
As we’ve all experienced by now, staying engaged in daily virtual meetings and phone calls is difficult. Though not everyone needs to return to the office just yet, physical office space is necessary for idea generation and overall employee satisfaction. Working through all of the unknowns with office floor plans, scheduling and safety may be challenging, but it’s the best chance for companies to come back stronger than ever.