Evolving the office in the post-COVID era
Published: Thursday, September 24th, 2020
We recently discussed what the future of the workplace will look like in a post COVID-19 world and since then caught up with Tristan Gannan from CBRE, the world’s largest property advisory firm, on how office space will digitally transform.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated an irrevocable shift in employee and employer behaviour. Where remote workers were once the exception, they are now the rule. Embracing more remote work as part of a long-term workplace strategy has many advantages, but it is unlikely that a fully remote workforce is here to stay. Nevertheless, even a partially remote or flexible workforce will require significant adaptations of the workplace”, says Tristan.
The pandemic has encouraged many positive outcomes to the workplace, like the ability to work from home, onboarding and training remote staff and easier access to company knowledge online. But are we really at the point of “the office is dead”?
“As confidence builds in increased hygiene practices, well-ventilated spaces and as low touch workplaces become standard practice, along with the promise of a potential vaccine, office utilisation will most likely again increase.”
Tristan notes that the workspaces we return to cannot be the same as we left them. We will come back to a new standard in which employees expect higher levels of flexibility and control over how, when and where they work, and organisations will shift toward remote-first organisation structures.
“While there is still much uncertainty around COVID-19 and how long the pandemic will last, there is the certainty that changes in employee behaviour and expectations are here to stay.”
A lot of people miss the hustle and bustle of office life, the casual conversations over coffee and the ability to walk over to someone’s desk to ask a question. And then there are those who are embracing the remote life, especially having the flexibility to work around family life. Businesses now need to acknowledge and accommodate both employee types and transform office space to facilitate their needs.
“Unsurprisingly, right now most offices are ill-suited for the new way of working. The new norm, with a focus on flexibility and remote working, requires more than just HR policy changes. Successful businesses will need to invest in the infrastructure and design of their offices to accommodate the contemporary workforce and organisation’s needs.”
The office of the future will need to be digitally inclusive, providing all employees, whether physically co-located or remote, with what they need to do their jobs effectively. For those working remotely, they need access to an effective knowledge management system so that they can get the same information they would at the physical office. Hot desks will be essential for remote workers returning to the office for meetings or business updates.
A digitally inclusive office will be effective for both in-office and remote employees. “They will incorporate features like boardrooms and meeting spaces designed in a D-shape to embrace virtual attendees and screens, lighting, and acoustics designed for seamless virtual connections.”
While COVID-19 has had many negative outcomes, for the future of the office space, there are some positives for both employers and employees. Employers will have cost savings on office spaces, more connected employees, and more secure company knowledge. Employees will have better access to company information, more flexible working options and a more connected workplace.
“While the pandemic has highlighted the opportunity to cut real-estate overheads, some of the reasons we come together to work in the first place have been downplayed in favour of cost and efficiency, and ultimately safety. But as we move beyond the pandemic, an evolved office has the potential to become an organisation's 'silent partner' in success — enhancing productivity, collaboration and fostering learning and development opportunities. The workplace will need to be one that entices employees to come in, a space that supports new and unique work styles and that also feels safe and healthy.”