After gaining a diverse set of valuable insight from several roundtable discussions with industry giants and innovative clients, we launched the Second Safest Workplace webinar series beginning in June. We continued the series with What Should I Consider for my Future Lease? as Amanda Kaleps, Wolcott Architecture Principal, Dave Toomey, Cresa Principal and Meg Bennett, Steelcase Design Manager, discussed how the work-from-home shift will influence future lease and workplace requirements. They shared observed behavioral changes and dynamic input from various clients to outline considerations for the future of your physical space.
Looking at the data, you’ll see that the majority of people want to come back to the office. But it’s not going to be business as usual, according to Bennett. While the physical office will never be done away with, organizations are responding by distributing their workforce between satellite locations in order to break up the density at one centralized location. Yes, the home office is here to stay, but the primary office will exist as a hub, used largely for collaboration and as a cultural epicenter. Meaning, people will be much more intentional about when they go to work and how they come together.
A common misconception is that individuals are more productive at home. The reality is that while individual task work is up, collaboration and creativity are down, according to Steelcase article Competing in the Post-COVID Era. That being said, Kaleps doesn’t believe in a strict distinction separation of the office as collaboration hub and home as focus hub as proximity and social accountability boost productivity, even in moments of heads-down work.
The bottom line? Work is inherently social. While a certain level of comradery and culture may continue to exist in the virtual space, Gen Z reports feeling disenfranchised with work, as they are deprived of in-person culture and missing the opportunities for mentorship and relationships at the formative days of their early career path. Taking it further, the more time workers are physically disconnected from the organization, the more they may lose satisfaction and engagement with their work, ultimately showing decline in loyalty to the company and increasing risk for turnover, says Bennett.
A number of short-term and long-term solutions exist for organizations to lower the density in the office. Are your employees willing to work in shifts? If you want to see all of your employees back today, you’re looking at purchasing more square footage should your budget allow. In the meantime, workstations can be reconfigured and repurposed to make collaborative areas in open spaces, putting greater focus on dynamic and flexible spaces that can be easily rearranged in the moment. Free address should be done away with and room/workstation reservations can be better enforced. Kaleps even mentions repurposing dead retail spaces close to the headquarters to allow for employee conferencing hubs.
If organizations are planning on staying in their high-rises, they’re most likely looking at touchless technology, density control, restroom sanitization, air circulation and filtrations—all changes that are in the hands of landlords to enforce. However, according to Toomey, for the last 20 years, there’s been growing interest in ground-level warehouse spaces with high ceilings and a blend into outdoor spaces. Given the current circumstances, there is an even greater interest, especially from the creative industry, in indoor-outdoor campus spaces. As for the high-rise residers that aren’t planning on moving anytime soon, there is a possibility that you can carve out an outdoor space on your floor as landlords may be more inclined to such requests given the current climate.
Ultimately, working from home once existed as an occasional amenity, and is now the new normal that has been forced upon a large portion of the workforce. Where some organizations aren’t wanting to make fast decisions and changes right now, others are saying, ‘We need to take a position and move forward with it.’ The answers are both here and yet to come, but in the meantime, checking in with your employees and offering surveys as a way to gauge general feelings can help guide organizations begin down the path that’s best for their employees’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.