The Post-Pandemic Office

Over the past few months, many of us have found a new normal for work.  In fact, you might be reading this in your sweatpants, 10-year-old band t-shirt and socks with a hole under the left big toe. (Not that this style is reflective of the author here. Not at all.) 

With so many of us working remotely these days, many are curious about the world we will return to once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.  Of course, since we’re talking about the future, it’s all speculation at the moment.  However, we can still make some educated guesses about what offices will look like in the not-so-distant future.

First of all – the office isn’t going anywhere.  The human need for social interaction is primal and runs deep.

  • We will always have a need and want to meet face to face. 
  • The office also provides our company with a brand, an identity that we can associate ourselves with, and a culture that we long to be a part of.
  • The office provides important infrastructure for companies to create culture, community, and relationships that allow their employees to achieve more

But no one would argue that the office isn’t going to change.  The psychological impact of social distancing will carry over to the office after the pandemic, especially right at first.  Employers and employees alike are going to be more concerned about their health, safety and welfare now more than ever.  And, this is why there is good reason to believe the pandemic might actually have a positive influence on office design.

Offices are about to become far less dense.

Most experts agree that the biggest shift in office design is going to be how it borrows from healthcare design. Here are a few key ways:

  • Your air is going to get much cleaner:
    • Indoor Air Quality is huge, so most companies are going to retrofit and update their ventilation systems
    • Integrated HVAC & air-pressure-control with dedicated infection-control systems may become a common practice for offices, not just healthcare facilities
  • Employees are going to be more aware of your cleaning protocols and they’ll want to know if…
    • You have a plan for scheduled cleaning and sanitizing
    • Hand sanitizer will be easily accessible
    • You plan to implement touchless and voice-activated technology
  • Materials around the office will be carefully selected, medical-grade and resistant to germs, bacteria and other unwanted things
    • Countertops, chair upholstery, wall coverings and floor coverings containing antimicrobial properties (Silver/Copper/Brass etc.) will become the norm. 

The introduction of healthcare elements in the office won’t be the only trend we see. Other design shifts will include:

  • “Healthy building” certifications such as WELL will gain importance for new and existing buildings
  • Fluidity and flexibility in the way people assemble and collaborate will be of top importance.
    • There may be a decline in shared amenity areas with spaces designed to accommodate smaller teams becoming more prevalent

The floorplan is definitely going to look different:

  • To maintain physical distancing, employees are going to gain back some of their lost personal space
    • The open office of the past – meant to foster collaboration & innovation – did nothing to prevent the spread of a pandemic, and in many cases increased it
    • The focus will now be to maintain collaboration, but with safety measures in place to support health and stop the spread of viruses
      • This means de-densifying the workplace
        • Conference rooms may change to ensure six feet of personal space
        • Break rooms will seat fewer people, with more space between them
        • Assigned desks are most likely going to make a comeback
      • We may see hard walls once again
        • People are seeing the importance of physical separation and private offices may see a return
Technology will remain important.

Technology will become more important as people, are going to expect choice and flexibility in where they work within their offices.

  • Zoom, Microsoft Teams and FaceTime will continue to stay with us
    • Employers will likely adopt more flexibility when it comes to employees occasionally working from home
    • Employees have now had a taste of a better work/life balance, and won’t want to give it back

Commercial real estate trends are also going to change in the post-pandemic world:

  • Pre-built spaces might be favored, and leases could become shorter as companies focus on flexibility in the near future
    • Co-working spaces may see a huge decline – especially from freelancers & small businesses – but can anticipate a redesign for anti-viral measures and de-densification
    • Workplace sizes are anticipated to increase to emphasize social distancing
    • But the new norm of remote working within a company’s culture may cancel out the need for additional square footage
    • Shared amenity spaces could become less in-demand
    • Most companies will likely favor smaller hub offices in exchange for large-scale, dense spaces

While you might love working from home (or loathe it), one thing is certain. We will eventually return to the office.  Even though we can’t be entirely sure what the office of the future will look like, we can make the educated guess that it will be less dense, cleaner and designed for health and safety.  And, unlike a home office, pants will likely be required.

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