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How Workplace Design May Change Following the Pandemic

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There are many factors that are in play when it comes to the future of workplace design. As we look to ready our facilities, we are all faced with the challenge of how to make environments that are safe and provide emotional and physical comfort to tenants, employees and visitors. Over recent years the topic of well-being has become increasingly important and, with this current pandemic, it is lending a new microscope to the overall mental and emotional well-being of people across the US. As we start to re-envision the future of the workplace following this pandemic, it will be important to establish an understanding of the perceived safety and risk of the building occupants and what actions it will take to make them feel less vulnerable returning to the workplace. While this situation has forced many to work from home, we still see the physical workplace playing a vital role in fostering culture and providing a place for innovation and connection among coworkers. We see changes across the entire landscape of office types, with some specific areas of focus:

Space Utilization
The strategy for workplace design will be retooled, where the office will act as a hub to support human interaction and establish cultural norms. While employees will have added flexibility to work out of their homes, there will be an emphasis placed on the added value that can be found in the office setting; particularly for those workforce’s with challenging commutes to and from the workplace. To support this, we anticipate spaces increasingly focusing on supporting human connection as it will become a differentiating factor for showing value and building employee interest in returning to the office setting. Shifting from the traditional individual desk focus, these spaces will support alternate styles of collaborative work. We see offices transforming into a higher ratio of activity settings and flexible space to support in-person and virtual team innovation.

Questions have been posed asking if on-site amenities will be a thing of the past given the current social distancing requirements, but we believe that these settings will continue to play an integral role in an organization’s ability to attract, engage and retain their employees. We may even see a rise in amenities such as free food and beverage services, personal shopping assistance, health and wellness services, on-site parking and other conveniences that assist employees in maximizing their time and experience while at work. Perks like on-site coffee shops with co-working space will work double time in offering socialization while at work, but also supporting free address and flexible work for visiting employees without permanent desks.

Food Service
We’ve all heard the phrase that post-pandemic, “the salad bar is dead,” but we actually don’t see food service being removed completely from work settings, rather, we may start to see alternative solutions added in as an enticing amenity, but possibly at smaller and differing scales than large group food service models. Clients are relying on a single source for providing food preparation and delivery, and may consider controlled, off-site preparation and cooking on-site. Turbo Chef units may rise as they can heat up packaged food providing hot food with little contact. Open micro-market vending services with electronic payment transactions, automatic inventory tracking and reordering allows companies to spend less on staffing cafés. These accessible markets can be adaptable to the population served and stocking items can pivot easily to reflect changing needs.

Many companies were scrambling these past few months to provide the necessary technology infrastructures, but now that this is in place, there will be an emphasis on refining and enhancing collaborative technology tools at every setting, allowing teams to work seamlessly when sitting together or looping in off-site workers. We anticipate a rise in digital collaboration tools such as hands-free controls for door access, ergonomic settings and bathroom fixtures as well as food and beverage vending, with higher initial investment advances in building management systems such as zone controls for lighting, glare control, air-conditioning and sound masking.

Real Estate Cost Implications
Many of the features being discussed for implementation may increase overall capital improvement costs with the additional features like occupancy sensors to frictionless technologies for greater access points and high touch spaces. There could be additional modifications to lighting, elevators, security systems, audio/visual enhancements and higher use of demountable walls and flexible furniture specifications. We also anticipate building system changes to support the higher hygienic standards such as HVAC system upgrades and additional handwashing stations. There may, however, be an opportunity to reduce real estate costs in large portfolios when a broader dispersed workforce solution is implemented. Working from home has forced many organizations to jump into an unplanned pilot test and has many considering a more permanent dispersed workforce solution for their organizations. While this may save on some real estate costs potentially, there may be an increase on the talent attraction, engagement and retention side of a budget as organizations look to programmatic ways to engage a more remote workforce.

There is No Crystal Ball
While the above are things we are anticipating for the future workplace, this will likely be a waiting game of sorts, as we wouldn’t advocate for our partners or clients to jump into changes without understanding the full impact to their organization and its culture. In the interim, we see clients taking introspective looks at how their organization’s are operating today, with important consideration placed on employee well-being and the cultural implications of a blended workforce. Regardless of what the end may hold, change management and communication will be at the cornerstone for companies that come out of this ahead.

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EUA Workplace Environment Experts