Since the world was forced to work remotely, we’ve had several clients ask us how they can adapt their offices to allow their workforce to safely return. There is not one right answer, and the solutions we provide are constantly evolving – or, fluid – to use the unofficial word of 2020. There have been many phases of this pandemic, there will be many more, and none of us can truly predict what the future holds. However, there are four general predictions I expect in a post-COVID world.
1) The office will not disappear
Once people feel safe in offices, they will return. That’s a large hurdle to overcome, and it could be different for everyone – a vaccine, a downward trend in positive cases, antibody testing – but the time will come. Offices are not simply a place to get work done – if anything, the world has proven that knowledge work can be done anywhere. Offices are a cultural hub, a place to not only collaborate, but socialize with your coworkers. Remote work will be more consistent, but the office will remain the place where employees connect to the company culture and are reminded why they work where they do.
Here are several design elements we are likely to see:
Smaller video-conference rooms, and more of them. All meetings will be considered “virtual” as participants continue to work everywhere, and there will continue to be a desire for reduced capacity in enclosed spaces.
Mobile vertical surfaces. Mobile whiteboards and mobile videoconferencing allow employees to collaborate anywhere and provide physical separation without hard walls.
Clean desk policies. Associates may not be immediately ready for free-address, but a clean desk is, and will continue to be, a must. This requires all employees to forego personal items and remove all work materials at the end of the day, enabling more regular, thorough cleaning. As we move away from assigned, “owned” spaces, we move from personal ownership to community ownership.
2) The “must have” amenity will be flexibility
Companies have been trying to implement the perfect perks – free food, game rooms, kegerators – but the best perk they can offer is flexibility. This applies to many aspects of the workplace – flexible furniture, amenities, technology – but the primary demand will be a flexible schedule. The pandemic has shined a light on how challenging it can be for people to focus on their job responsibilities within a typical workday. One of the most obvious challenges is working parents doubling as home-school teachers. Schools cannot change their remote learning to accommodate the schedule of every parent, so our companies must allow – and promote – flexible work.
Inc.com recently shared an article about Siemens new remote work policy, and the author shared a portion of the announcement from the CEO:
“The basis for this forward-looking working model is further development of our corporate culture. These changes will also be associated with a different leadership style, one that focuses on outcomes rather than on time spent at the office. We trust our employees and empower them to shape their work themselves so that they can achieve the best possible results. With the new way of working, we’re motivating our employees while improving the company’s performance capabilities and sharpening Siemens’ profile as a flexible and attractive employer.”
Focusing on outcomes and trusting your employees to be an attractive employer? I look forward to watching this unfold.
3) Reliable, ubiquitous technology will be required
With employees being mobile both within the office and externally, technology within the workplace cannot be an afterthought. As I mentioned in the first point, all meetings will be treated as virtual, so there must be an infrastructure to make this possible. For our firm, that means at the beginning of each project, it will be more critical than ever to get all consultants on the same page – MEP engineers, AV consultants, automation experts – to ensure nothing is missed.
Ubiquitous technology isn’t simply strong Wi-Fi and appropriate hardware throughout the space. There will be a deliberate emphasis on touchless technology and automation throughout the entire building. Reducing touch points in our environments creates fewer opportunities for germs to spread through physical contact, and automation can help with this reduction.
These concepts are not new, but this pandemic has accelerated the adoption of what seemed like futuristic ideas months ago.
4) There will be a greater focus on human health and wellness
At Little, we have been creating the human-focused workplace for years – environments that focus on human experience and wellbeing. We also have WELL accredited professionals who know how to apply WELL building concepts to ensure the spaces we occupy are healthier.
Tenants will require from landlords, and employees from employers, a building that does not contribute to disease spread. The features within the 10 concepts of the WELL Building Standard – Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind and Community – all exist to create a healthy environment that humans can thrive. Healthier people can lead to reduced healthcare costs for employers and increased productivity. In addition to the WELL Building Standard, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) has also launched the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management, which signifies a building’s commitment to the health of all inhabitants.
However, it is not only the physical space that will be considered. Companies will have to further consider design elements such as biophilic design and restoration spaces to provide employees a place to decompress. Mental health has been a necessary focus with increased isolation from COVID, and one silver lining of this dark cloud is the focus on de-stigmatizing mental illness and creating policies that support employees.
Most people could not have predicted this is where we would be in August 2020, yet here we are. While the pandemic has taken a devastating toll on human lives and the global economy, there will be seismic changes that rise from this catastrophe.