It’s been more than a year since “the office” became anything from a kitchen table to a complete and elaborate in-home setup. Both businesses and employees have come to embrace remote working as “the new normal.” Most organizations have plans to continue remote work. But the solution for these institutions will be unique to each.
The pandemic isn’t over yet, and progress is slow. With vaccines now available, we will see what “heading back to the office” looks like. At this point, we’re not sure what to expect. We can only work with what we know right now. What’s happening now may not be the same in six months to a year.
Many businesses have a better idea of how to manage their remote workforce now than they did before the pandemic. Some companies are looking forward to their employees’ return. Small-business accounting company Wave created its guidelines for its return to the office.
With this in mind, here are some ways “a day at the office” might look post-COVID.
Smaller Office Footprint
Many businesses embraced remote work quickly. So the next question was what to do with the expensive real estate. With so many remote workers, how much office space does any company need?
Corporations all over the US are asking that same question. About 58% of Fortune 500 CEOs expect to reduce their office space by 10%, and about one-third expect to reduce floor space by 25%. Other estimates see roughly 15% space reductions.
Some businesses are considering de-centralizing their office space from one central campus to multiple smaller locations. For instance, sporting goods giant REI built a new corporate headquarters right before the pandemic. They never moved in and eventually sold the Seattle building to Facebook.
The new freedom saw employees nationwide move out of expensive locales and into more affordable suburbs and even semi-rural areas. REI’s solution was to open their first satellite location in Issaquah, WA. The company has plans to open more around the Puget Sound area to accommodate relocated employees.
REI isn’t the only business to consider satellite offices. Companies like Google are adopting the “hub-and-spoke” approach for their workers who have moved away from expensive areas. With workers spending more time remotely, the need for a big central headquarters decreases. Hub-and-spoke means a business has a smaller central location along with additional areas near these remote workers. They will have the same resources as the rest of the company, but much closer to home. The satellite setup also allows workers to visit the office less often and still enjoy the social aspect of office work.
Other corporations are changing their setups to hub-and-spoke, including:
- Apple, whose new 3-million square-foot Austin, TX headquarters will open in 2022 for over 5,000 workers
- Uber, building a Dallas-based hub for 3,000 workers
- Amazon, expanding offices into six US cities outside of Seattle, including a 180,000 SF hub in La Marque, TX (south of Houston)
- MotoRefi, an auto loan refinance company
These are just some of the businesses planning satellite locations.
Satellite campuses can also help in the reduction of a company’s carbon footprint. Shortening or eliminating the employee commute means:
- Decreased fuel consumption
- Reduced traffic congestion
- Reduced pollution and emissions
- Reduced strain on public transportation systems
- Higher employee engagement
Companies who rent office space then embraced remote work have the option of reducing their square footage. Office-space landlords and owners need to be more flexible to accommodate the tenant companies that offer alternative work schedules. Without it, those companies will be moving elsewhere.
A reduction in desk density is one of the first potential changes in offices. More space between seating with Plexiglas shields in between cubicles will replace the crowded “cube farm.”
Transitional spaces are also part of the re-design, such as portable walls and modular desks. Companies can have the ability to move and re-shape desks, conference rooms, offices, and other spaces as needed.
An office can create multiple types of arrangements just by moving the furniture and fixtures as needed. The new workspace can support in-person interactions that do not work remotely. At the same time, those spaces must also allow for safe interactions.
Even with updated HVAC and air filtration systems, outdoor spaces can become seasonal seating. Ground-floor lunch areas, balconies, and roof areas can become expanded workspaces, similar to a patio outside of a residence.
For many employees, their office desk or cubicle is an extension of the home. The typical desk may have anything from a framed family picture to a collection of coffee cups, sports memorabilia, or even stuffed animals. Even in-office workers may not have their desks or cubicles anymore.
Picking today’s desk may not be ideal. The Gensler Workplace Survey 2020 reported a decline in workplace effectiveness, including the difficulty with unassigned desks. But workers who only come in weekly or less would not need an assigned office desk.
Some companies have already adopted the “first come, first seated” approach. That is, employees walk in and take the first desk they come to, much like they would in a coffee shop. Look for more companies to adopt unassigned desk space as they re-open.
The Hygienic Office
Offices haven’t always been considered “hygienic.” In light of COVID-19, that will change.
- Employee temperature checks daily
- More cleaning of high-touch surfaces such as desks, doors, and elevator buttons
- “Touchless” transactions, such as vending machines and lunch areas
- More motion-activated appliances and fixtures, such as faucets and doors
- “Smart” building technology such as those used in hospitals, airports, and other facilities
The first order of business for companies returning to the office is safety and hygiene protocols. Adding hand sanitizer stations and cleaning wipes in more places are the first steps towards establishing these protocols. More frequent desk cleanings and floor notations for six-foot distances will also become commonplace.
Implementing indoor mask requirements helps stop the spread of airborne pathogens. Another option is improved air filtration designed to remove pathogens from the air. Staggering desks, one-way walkways, and conference areas with more separation are also possible. Health and safety team members can be appointed to ensure that everyone follows protocol.
The Hybrid Model
Some employees who embraced working from home found that they enjoyed it. They could work in a more relaxed atmosphere and have more time to care for children or other family members. Online collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom and others allowed the conversations to continue.
Others missed the in-person social interactions and collaborations. These employees are looking forward to going back to the office and meeting with coworkers in person. But they’re also concerned about possible health risks of being in the office all day, every day.
Many employees and companies see a future hybrid work model with the option of part-time remote work. Employees will have a set schedule of when to be in the office but flexible enough to also take care of personal obligations as needed.
The Pet-Friendly Office
Pet owners enjoy remote working because they can spend more time with their pets. Dogs aren’t home alone all day and have more frequent walks. Cats can spend more time with their owners while interrupting Zoom meetings. Many employees worry about how their pets will react when they are again left at home alone all day.
Petco’s Pets At Work initiative encourages companies to become more pet-friendly. As a company with a pet-friendly policy, Petco offers advice on creating and managing pet-friendly offices for interested companies. In a company survey, 62% of owners appreciate pet-friendly workspaces. Allowing pets in the office also offers more incentive to employees to return to the office at least part-time.
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