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CRE Opinion

A New Work Paradigm: Rethinking Office Space

Space has always mattered, but now, the quality, security, and safety of the office is even more critical, says industry expert Jo Staffelbach Heinz.

We know the office of the future will change, but to what extent? The longer the COVID work from home protocol continues, the more uncertainty there is. In March, we thought working from home would be a short-term thing, now six months later, we realize that this pandemic has transformed the way companies operate. It’s incredible how much impact remote working has had on our society.

We know ways of working will never be the same. Many jobs and many people will simply not return to the office. They will continue to work remotely with high productivity and have no desire to return to the office. The time they previously spent in their commute is happily spent with family, and they find life more “balanced.” These companies will see a reduction of working space within the office and will explore how to use space previously devoted to workers differently.

Jo Staffelbach Heinz

On the opposite side of the spectrum, not all work can be performed productively or successfully remotely. Not all individuals desire to work from home.

The physical workplace will remain for many companies, and these are the groups who have already returned to work in full force. The only thing that has changed for them is masking, social distancing, the degree of separation, and the definition and enforcement of adequate space for individuals to perform their work. The 3- and 4-foot benching stations have been replaced by 6’ x 8’ workstations and more private offices. Conference rooms have been rethought, capacities reduced, and density is handled differently. This is working well for those who can’t and don’t want to work remotely.

But for many companies, the pandemic has pushed the pause button, and leadership is rethinking the office environment.

It’s a new work paradigm—how to support new ways of working to offer safe, secure, and healthy spaces that support innovation and synergy. The hot topics being discussed today are indoor air quality, ionization, airflow, infection prevention, infection control, better cleaning and disinfecting methods, and avoiding cross-contamination.

Touchless options, NanoSeptic touch buttons, and bacteria resistant materials are being incorporated, and companies seek to determine how to integrate and access outdoor spaces more. There is a renewed focus on the wellness of the employee and how to make workers feel more comfortable in the office.

What this means is a huge plus to office buildings and office spaces.

Space has always mattered, but now, the quality, security, and safety of the office space is even more critical. How can office space be rethought, so it is a real asset for the company? It must function fluidly and flexibly to support the coming together of individuals and be a hub for activities.

The office space must reflect the culture of the company while inspiring innovation and goal achievement. It must bring people and thoughts and activities together comfortably and safely. Walkability and the opportunity to access outside working spaces will be critical. Things like bicycle and scooter storage and proximity to amenities will enhance the “work experience.” The talent competition has accelerated, and individuals will evaluate the elements of the work environment as key in their decision-making process.

There is an incredible opportunity for office spaces and office buildings to differentiate themselves in our marketplace.

The bottom line—the post COVID office should be an awesome place to work.

Jo Staffelbach Heinz is a Dallas-based principal at DLR Group / Staffelbach.

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