Published OnJanuary 28, 2021There are so many unanswered questions when it comes to how real estate professionals will handle changes to their portfolio with the new workforce dynamic.
2020 - the year everything shook our collective workforce. No one knew the last day at the office would be their literal last physical day in the office.
Without warning, organizations were faced with managing remote workers on a massive and widespread scale. From obtaining laptops for everyone to figuring out which video conference system to use, how to handle incoming mail and more, organizations of all sizes were thrust into uncharted territory.
While operationalizing remote workers has been tackled, there’s one area that organizations still need to figure out - their office space.
There are so many unanswered questions when it comes to how real estate professionals will handle changes to their portfolio with the new workforce dynamic. Once the pandemic significantly diminishes and people are ready to go back to the office, what does that look like? How do you manage every aspect of office space in a safe and secure manner? Here is where organizations are now forced to think about future real estate decisions (some for the very first time).
Teetering back and forth on changes to the way people work versus what’s been accepted in a traditional office setting has been a major issue for some time. Since Covid-19, it’s never been as urgent for real estate professionals as it is now to rethink the future of office spaces. This pandemic has accelerated organizations’ digital transformations and is now upending the very concept of traditional office space.
To find the future office strategy starting line, we interviewed seven real estate subject matter experts who shared their insights, alongside guidance and recommendations for the future workspace.
Real Estate’s Top Post-Covid Concern
All of our real estate interviewees agreed their top priority when discussing employees returning to their workspace is safety.
“How can we reconfigure and repurpose the workplace so that we’re keeping those employees who do come to the office safe in terms of physical distancing?'' said Amazon’s Director of Global Real Estate and Facilities, London Kemp.
Safety in the workplace includes everything from employee confidence, their transit into work as well as the physical space layout. Rows of desks and conference rooms will be dinosaurs. Space occupied by file cabinets and paper records must be removed to accommodate physical distancing requirements.
Employees’ New Hybrid Work Style
The next phase for the workplace will involve a reexamination of the basic office concept. What worked before the pandemic will not hold once things return to “normal.”
Given the vast majority of employees have now worked remotely for a year, the underpinning desire to change the office concept has been thrust into the spotlight. Professional services firm JLL conducted research and found that 72% of employees want to continue working from home at least two days per week. People are now expecting more flexibility with regards to where they work from.
“The purpose of the workplace will change,” said Firmenich’s Senior Vice President for Global Workplace Solutions, Paul Youds. “So, our first priority is to redefine and reshape our working environments to meet these new behaviors and patterns of attendance. We then develop our plan based on those changes.”
When it comes to the employees’ future work expectations, here’s what JLL uncovered from its multi-industry office worker survey across 10 countries:
- 71% expect more flexible schedules
- 57% want workspace choice in their offices
- 43% would like to work from a co-working facility
Prior to the pandemic, it’s safe to say most organizations did not have a well-defined remote work from home policy. Now, they need to reassess what’s needed in terms of a functional and efficient office for employees looking for more of a hybrid work style.
Future Office Space Design
How we get to the new concept of what an office is depends on the needs of employees and the flexibility of leaders to reimagine their workspace. Many real estate professionals we talked to say that the future of work very well may look like the co-working spaces of today where seats are bookable, space is open, and nobody is required to come in five days a week - the hybrid work style.
“First, do some supply and demand modeling. Determine what the demand is for who needs to be back in the workplace and then, consider the supply,” said HOK’s Senior Principal and Director of WorkPlace, Kay Sargent. “Evaluate all policies, procedures and operational elements of how we manage both space and people. We also need to create something that’s flexible and scalable because this is an evolving situation.”
While nothing seems to be familiar and nothing is clear for the future, there are steps to take for maximizing office space to fit the new preferred hybrid style of work. Reimagining and removing furniture, computer equipment, files and seating can seem overwhelming but it’s necessary to create a clean slate for when employees return to the office.
“I don’t think that the office is going to be the place where heads-down work gets done,” said Change Healthcare’s VP of Corporate Real Estate, Brian Holtze. Instead, the office is going to be where you’ve got collaboration and team members coming together to work on things as a team.”
After conducting an internal assessment of employee desires and comparing them against the current real estate supply, it’s possible your organization may decide to downsize its square footage. If this is the case, you may want to check into Iron Mountain’s Clean Start® solution.
Reimagining and reconfiguring our offices is a must for the future. Real estate professionals have been ready to transform the way we think about work space uses for years. Now that this pandemic has thrust this process into the spotlight on a global scale, organizations just might be ready to join the real estate industry in office space utilization upgrades.
For a deeper dive into our interviews with these real estate professionals, please read our Mighty Guides report, 7 Experts on Workplace Transformation.