It’s been 15 long months since the Covid-19 pandemic forced millions of workers to leave their offices and scramble to set up makeshift offices at home. The pandemic has had a drastic effect on how companies think about office space - and it’s clear that office spaces are going to look different from now on.
Companies are assessing the value of a central, communal workplace, rethinking floor layouts, staggering work schedules, relying more on adapting social distancing within the workplace, and making changes that could fundamentally shift the workplace for decades to come.
The Hybrid Office Model
The hybrid work model combines remote work with an in-person office. This is a more flexible workplace solution that gives employees the option of choosing where to work. A hybrid office might request that employees come into the office on certain days but work remotely on other days.
Many companies are adopting a hybrid work model and incorporating flexible workspace solutions into their real estate strategies in order to cater to the needs of remote workers. While “hybrid” is a key term in understanding the move towards a more flexible work environment, the one-size-fits-all approach is far gone. It is vital that companies find an experienced tenant representative to help navigate through the changing commercial real estate landscape. Although the hybrid model is ideal for some workplaces, it does bring its own set of challenges. It is kind of like a Rubix cube - when you start changing one side of it, it’s going to impact all these other sides that must work together to create an optimal workplace environment
Nonetheless, companies are working diligently on a return-to-office plan. One sign of major change is that several large enterprise companies have formally announced new policies designed to embrace a hybrid work model that gives employees the option to voluntarily return to the office or continue to work remotely for an indefinite period.
In a recent interview, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained his company’s intent to embrace hybrid work, saying, “If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen. If not, our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions, when we feel it’s safe to return.” Ultimately, returning to work after COVID-19 will look different for every organization, so the difficult part will be finding a space that works best for the safety and welfare of all your employees.
With many employers embracing a hybrid model that will allow more work-from-home flexibility, experts say this could force companies to consider a hoteling setup that eliminates assigned desks and workstations. Instead of a dedicated space for each employee, companies reserve certain workspaces for employees at certain times. This is also called a “hot desk” approach.
Hotel desks are a simple solution to limited office space. If you have more people than desks, office hoteling is a way to share those desks in a non-disruptive way. There’s also a significant amount of flexibility and other benefits that come with hotel desks.
Office hoteling requires a carefully planned approach. It is a huge change for an employee not to have their own personal space to hang pictures, pin up personal notes, and so on. Although hotel desks are going to be a big part of most spaces, companies could run into unhappy employees.
A solid plan needs to be put in place for coordinating desk assignments, who’s in the office on which day, booking conference rooms, communication between different teams, and so on The last thing you want are desks doubled up while others sit empty, or employees feeling lost in the shuffle with ever-changing seating arrangements.
When you make changes to the previous office plans, you might find it beneficial to introduce several other aspects that go along with your space to make it conducive to each client’s needs. Ideally, that would include collaborative areas, phone booths, and video conference rooms, along with other areas that are necessary for a successful hoteling strategy. The days of the simple and easy-to-design space may be a thing of the past, for now anyway.
Although the number of employees in the office daily may decrease, keep in mind that additional collaboration space will probably level off the square footage.
Planning for Physical Change
While many employers are still without a concrete plan for a return to office, a couple of prominent voices have changed their tune since the inception of the pandemic. Take Morgan Stanley for example. At the beginning of the COVID crisis, the CEO of Morgan Stanley was vocal about the company’s plans to reduce their real estate footprint, having discovered the wonders of remote work.
However, this March, a spokesperson discussed the issue with new sentiments, announcing that the company planned “a full return to the Midtown office when it is safe to do so.” Whether or not most employees will land on a full return, a staggered approach, or a permanent hybrid model, the new practical layout of the post-COVID office will be shaped by several factors:
● The classification of all employee’s role. As organizations reconstruct how they work and identify what can be done remotely, they can make decisions about which roles must be carried out in person, and to what degree. These roles can be reclassified into employee segments by considering the value that remote working could deliver as being fully remote, hybrid remote, or on site.
● More space per employee: Space will be the top priority when it comes to navigating a return. For the last decade, the allocated space per in-office employee has been on a downward trend, reaching a low of 140 square feet per person — more than half of what it used to be only ten years prior. Therefore, as a long-term solution to bolster productivity by preventing workplace sickness, tenants are looking at more open meeting spaces and less dense office-heavy build outs.
● Improved technology for a more productive return. During the pandemic, new vendors have appeared on the market to help employers better understand and plan their use of space. Basking for example, designed an infrastructure-based on a workplace analytics program called Plan Back-to-Office. The information gathered will help find better ways to utilize, control, and monitor employee activity in the office. With the workplace rapidly changing, a growing number of companies are looking to create a flexible and activity-based working environment.
In truth, the future of the office and timing of a return is anyone’s best guess at this point. But it seems safe to say that there will be a few additional essentials: more space per employee, better technology, and new home bases. Hopefully, the new chapter of our corporate normal will combine the best of both worlds, maintaining the benefits of remote work and the reconfiguration of how we use in-office space.
How Will Offices Change Post-Pandemic
At this point in time, employers believe that significant trends would help lay out a transition plan to a post pandemic workplace. In truth, the future of the office and the impact it will have on space requirements will only start to unfold over the next 12 to 24 months. However, it’s safe to assume that the future layout of the space is more crucial than ever, especially when incorporating more space per employee, better technology, and establishing new home bases for employees.
It may be time to discuss your company’s future for office space utilization with your landlord. We at WRA are here to assist you in these types of discussions:
Do you have more than 12 months left on your lease, but you need less/more space before your lease expires? What are your options?
Renegotiations of your existing lease
Taking advantage of today’s tenant market, thinking about a blend and extend deal could be very beneficial from a cost perspective moving forward.
What concessions can you expect from a new lease?
When is the best time to start the real estate process? Does today’s market have an effect on that timeline?
As space design and utilization become more important than ever before, WRA can help ensure a smooth transition back into the office. If you want a team that takes a hands-on approach to save you a significant amount of time and money, please reach out today. Even if you just have a simple question about your lease or the market, we’re here to help. No matter the size of your company, we keep your best interests at heart and work hard to ensure the best outcome for you. We consider each deal to be the most important deal we’ve ever done - and we make sure every client walks away knowing they made the right choice by working with WRA!