The pandemic has changed the way we use office space, and the industry needs fresh, new solutions to the unique challenges that have surfaced.
This disruption has provided employees with a freedom of choice to work where it best suits them. The office environment will have to adapt to provide experiences that working from home cannot — socialization, collaboration, innovation and learning/career growth opportunities all will be top of mind for employees returning to the office structure. To accommodate this new office outlook, the space itself will need to transform.
The workspace landscape has seen abrupt and striking changes in 2020. In Q2, U.S. office absorption fell into negative territory for the first time since 2010, down 86 percent year over year. Return to the office on a large scale probably won’t take place until July 2021, but it’s not that far away as far as real estate and construction are concerned. As a real estate veteran, I believe an innovative strategy for reimagining workspaces in this post-pandemic world involves a new model and approach.
The previous status quo
Most employees used to come to the office every day and go to individual workstations, benching or clustered workstations. These workspaces are often tightly packed, with narrow walkways or grouped together. Shared spaces such as employee break rooms, kitchens and meeting areas are often more trafficked without optimized ventilation systems for clean air flow. There is little option for social distancing in these types of spaces, and even more so for those offices with an open concept that don’t provide walls with each desk. Before the pandemic there was no need for office design to consider a new framework that allows for a work-from-home hybrid, collaborative space change or social distancing. There was an average of 196 square feet per employee in 2020, but that will likely change.
What is needed moving forward
Without updates and new layouts, employees may not feel incentivized to come back to the office. Their health and safety needs to come first, and employers will need to show they are invested in employees’ overall work experience, including their safety and desire for hybrid scheduling options. In a recent survey, 77 percent of the workforce is working remotely in some capacity right now, and 55 percent of workers are projected to want to work partially remotely after the pandemic. Because of this, the post-COVID-19 workspace will likely be smaller with more people working remotely at least one day a week. The function of the office will change, so businesses need to act now to ensure an ideal experience for staff post-pandemic.
Even though the physical space might be smaller, it will be less dense with employees working a hybrid style of remote and in-office attendance. Unispace anticipates that offices will be about 20 percent smaller and utilized in completely new ways. Since individual work can be done from home, more collaborative spaces will come to the forefront and will work better for those situations when teams need to be in the office. Optimized flow and layout with greater ventilation, airflow and filtering systems will allow for the best air quality inside the building, giving employees extra peace of mind. So, how do we create this new type of space?
An innovative answer
The solution to this puzzle lies in an approach that integrates space consultation; property selection; office design and construction; and occupier health and wellbeing management and tracking.
One of the most critical success factors will be change management. Seasoned and skilled professionals will need to help facilitate a myriad of management processes for their clients, from assessing current and projecting future capacity needs, to selecting the space, designing it and delivering it. At Unispace, using state-of-the art technologies, our experts can provide 3D models with virtual fly throughs that enable decision-makers to see their reimagined space and know that the new office layout will work for them prior to pulling the trigger on the lease or purchase and bringing their vision to life. Our tools also allow the client to see the impact of even the most minimal design changes to budget and schedule – two other critical factors and points of pressure for nearly every client.
Back in the office
As companies try to work out what the new office looks like, Unispace’s workplace framework for the future, Propeller, is a perfect example of how to strategically and successfully move forward. Propeller is guided by an expert team of change management, real estate, design and construction professionals, and combines the ease and familiarity of working from home and the collaborative nature of the physical office to create a balanced work experience. It’s a workplace solution that improves employee retention and productivity, inspires collaboration and knowledge sharing, and normalizes the true definition of flexible working. There is much less focus on the individual desk and finding concentration space (as employees can now do this at home. Instead, the new office will revolve around those experiences that satisfy our social desires, and reinforce brand, culture, innovation and problem-solving.)
We need to rethink the way we look at workplace design and think creatively and strategically for the post-Covid-19 office landscape. Employees’ needs have changed, and companies need to stay ahead of the trend in order to thrive in this new dynamic.
With over 25 years of commercial real estate experience, Michael Casolo, chief revenue officer of Unispace, has established a reputation as a strategic problem-solver, achieved through laser-focused relationship building. Previously at Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, he oversaw workplace environments for their 1 million sq ft portfolio. Prior to this, Michael held global business development leadership roles at Cushman & Wakefield and JLL. As CRO he leads our global client partnerships and business development teams with a solutions-based approach. His core business philosophy being centered on the customer and employee experience will ensure our corporate partners can seamlessly resolve their global workplace project challenges.