Redesign the office of the future
10th August 2020
In the first part of this article, we examined how the events of the last four months have changed the way business owners think about their workspace and their staff’s needs. Here, we’ll look at how they can put these learnings into practice for the future.
Although offices have changed during the past decade, they may need to be entirely rethought and transformed for a post–COVID-19 world.
Organisations could create workspaces specifically designed to support the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely. If the primary purpose of an organisation’s space is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration rather than individual work, for example, should 80% of the office be devoted to collaboration rooms? Should organisations ask all employees who work in cubicles, and rarely have to attend group meetings, to work from homes?
If office space is needed only for those who cannot do so, are working spaces close to where employees live a better solution?
In the office of the future, technology will play a central role in enabling employees to return to office buildings and to work safely before a vaccine becomes widely available. Businesses will need to manage which employees can come to the office, when they can enter and take their places, how often the office is cleaned, whether the airflow is sufficient, and if they are remaining sufficiently far apart as they move through the space.
To maintain productivity, collaboration, and learning and to preserve the corporate culture, the boundaries between being physically in the office and out of the office must collapse. In-office videoconferencing can no longer involve a group of people staring at one another around a table while others watch from a screen on the side, without being able to participate effectively. Always-on videoconferencing, seamless in-person and remote collaboration spaces (such as virtual whiteboards), and asynchronous collaboration and working models will quickly shift from futuristic ideas to standard practice.
Resize the footprint. Reinventing offices will happen. Instead of adjusting the existing footprint incrementally, companies should take a fresh look at how much and where space is required and how it fosters desired outcomes for collaboration, productivity, culture, and the work experience. This will involve questioning where offices should be located. Some companies will continue to have them in big cities, which many regard as essential. Others may abandon big city headquarters for suburban campuses.
McKinsey research indicates that office space decision-makers expect the percentage of time worked in main and satellite offices to decline by 9-12%, respectively, while flexible office space will remain constant and work from home will increase to 27% from 20%.
These changes may not only improve how work is done but also lead to savings. Rent, capital costs, facilities operations, maintenance, and management make property the largest cost for many organizations. Thinking through footprints – take advantage of alternative workplace strategies. In a post- OVID-19 world, the potential to reduce real-estate costs could be significant. Landlords need to get on the front foot and collaborate with their tenants and develop fit-for-purpose space designs quickly, by creating win–win position.
The stakes are high. Over time, some companies could reduce their property costs by 30%. Those that shift to a fully virtual model could eliminate them. Both could increase their resilience and reduce their level of risk by having employees work in many different locations.
Transformational thinking is needed. The aim of reinvention will be what good companies have always wanted: a safe environment where people can enjoy their work, collaborate with their colleagues, and achieve their objectives.