The Adaptable Office

The Adaptable Office

In a post-Covid world, employees and employers alike want more flexible workspaces.

A year of unprecedented disruption has brought profound changes to the workplace, leading businesses everywhere to reconsider how, when and where work will get done in the future. Dozens of studies find that employers and employees alike would prefer to maintain a hybrid workstyle in which they can split time between home and the office.

The technologies and processes implemented to support remote operations have proven so successful that many businesses now question the value of conventional office environments with an assigned workspace for each employee. Nearly nine in 10 executives in a recent PwC survey say they expect to change their real estate strategy over the next year with an eye toward consolidating and retrofitting office space to accommodate more flexible workstyles.

In so-called “flex work” arrangements, employees aren’t locked into a conventional 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday work week. Instead, schedules are more task- and project-oriented, although employees are expected to work a consistent number of hours. While they’ll have the option to work a good deal of the time from home or a virtual office, they may also be required to keep limited office hours. When they do go to the office, they will use shared spaces instead of having an assigned workspace.

Share and Share Alike

That will require a radical departure from conventional office design concepts. Traditionally, commercial real estate has been designed to maximize the number of workers per square foot. Now, organizations are emphasizing open floor plans that facilitate flex work and social distancing.

In a recent survey of 77 global enterprises, the CBRE commercial real estate services and investment firm found that 86 percent anticipate using flex space as a key part of their real estate strategies going forward. Additionally, 82 percent said they will favor buildings that include flex-space offerings.

“As COVID-19 vaccinations begin to roll out, companies are planning for their future office space needs,” said Kevin Kushner, executive vice president with CBRE. “We expect tenants with footprint requirements of 5,000 square feet and under who may be unsure about their future needs to consider flex options.”

Hoteling and hot-desking are two approaches for making the best use of available real estate by abandoning the traditional practice of having permanently assigned workspaces for all employees. With hoteling, employees use a central booking agent or application to reserve workspace for a specific time and check in upon arrival. With the less-structured hot-desking approach, employees simply use workspaces on a first-come, first-served basis.

Hoteling and hot-desking help organizations cut costs through more efficient use of real estate. According to a report in Work Design Magazine, between 20 percent and 50 percent of office space was already unused before the pandemic. Continuing to hold assigned workspaces for people who will only be in the office part of the time simply doesn’t make good financial sense.

Repurposing Spaces

Another way companies can make more efficient use of their office space is by breaking up large conference rooms into multiple “huddle rooms.” Designed for informal meetings and rapid collaboration, these smaller rooms are typically outfitted with high-quality audio-visual and unified communications (UC) technologies.

Huddle rooms make more efficient use of office real estate and don’t require fancy tables and chairs. Desktop-based systems provide advanced collaboration functionality without the price tag of room-based conferencing systems. Lighting and acoustic treatments are designed to optimize the collaboration experience in a small space.

While the pandemic accelerated adoption of work-from-home operations, employees generally still like the idea of going to the office at least occasionally. Research suggests the office provides a sense of community and belonging that’s been missing from home offices. In a recent survey of more than 2,000 global office workers by the JLL commercial real estate services company, 70 percent said the office environment is more conducive to connecting with teammates to solve complex issues, manage direct reports and connect with leadership.

“The pandemic has accelerated the trend of the office being a space to foster productivity and socialization,” said Neil Murray, JLL’s Global CEO, Corporate Solutions. “Moving forward, however, variety, flexibility and choice will be core tenets of all successful office environments post-crisis.”