New technology, an on-demand economy, a more flexible workforce, evolving demographics — businesses have accepted and adjusted to meet the needs of these major changes over the last couple of decades. But companies are now facing a different challenge that will test their adaptability: the reality of office space during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. More than ever, it's important to understand how employees interact, not just with each other, but also with their office environment. Your new goal is to maintain productivity while keeping everyone safe, healthy and comfortable with coming to work.
Open office space has become all the rage in recent decades, with many business owners and managers feeling as though breaking down physical walls between their employees would help with collaboration and creativity. But returning to work during a pandemic may lead to the end of the open office as we know it. The format makes it nearly impossible for employees to practice social distancing. Past studies have shown that viruses can spread to over half of commonly-touched areas in an office in as little as four hours. Returning to a format that allows employees some independence and solitude may not be such a bad thing after all.
According to Vanity Fair, surveys dating as far back as the 1980s have shown that employees find the open office to be stressful. And a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that open offices actually led to a decrease in human interaction by as much as 70%. Instead, employees who work in open offices are relying on technology — emails, messaging apps, social media, virtual meeting software and even old-fashioned phone calls — to connect with their colleagues. Not only is there less interaction, but what interaction does take place is less meaningful.
If your office is like many others across the country, some or all of your employees began working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. You probably found that many of them loved it and felt more productive, and many more didn't like the change and couldn't wait to get back into the office permanently. There may be a few reasons for this. First, not everyone has the ideal work-from-home environment. They may not have a designated office space, or they may have kids or a spouse at home creating distractions. Second, some people just need the separation between their work and home lives. They work best and feel refreshed with a daily change of scenery and in-person social interactions. For companies easing back into a daily routine and offering employees an option, it's important to prepare for those who want to come back to work as soon as possible, despite the pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, hoteling, or allowing employees to reserve a desk or workspace on an as-needed basis, was becoming a popular practice with companies across the country. They found that it was a great start towards maximizing workspace and allowing employees the flexibility they needed for increased productivity and easier in-person collaborations. This could be a great setup for the current climate as well. While your employees are still working from home, it allows them some flexibility. They can reserve a space to safely meet with a few colleagues at a time when they need that in-person interaction. It also provides them with a place they can work free from the distractions at home when necessary.
One of the biggest challenges companies face as their employees return to work is setting up space that allows those who are in the office to collaborate while social distancing. Conference and meeting room spaces are a must for building bonds and moving a company forward, but gone are the days when you can fill a small or medium-size room with 30 people. Ultimately, companies may have to adapt by creating more collaboration spaces. These spaces will be smaller, so they must be set up in a way that allows small groups to meet without sitting close to each other. It's also important that employees have access to more tools. For example, it may be practical to place whiteboards on multiple walls so that your employees can share without sharing. You may also need to add technology to make it possible for those in the office to communicate with those working from home.
No one knows exactly when the COVID-19 pandemic will end or what its long-term impact on the office as we know it will be, though many experts predict it will change the workplace permanently. That's why it's important not to be caught off guard when the time comes to renew your lease. Your choice could cost you tens of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Don't make that decision based solely on your instincts. Make an informed decision based on real live data collected by an unbiased third party like 4SITE. Using sensors, we help you understand how your employees are interacting with your office space, so you can decide whether or not you want to stay in the same location or choose another one that allows you to optimize your space — and your money — for a better bottom line.