As more and more employees return to the office, the question on everyone’s mind is: What will life in the office look like in our new world?
Historically, going into the office was hardly considered fun or a special experience, especially in a city like Dallas, where you can add grueling rush-hour traffic to the mix. Since the pandemic forced much of the world’s workforce to work from home for months on end, going back to a regular 9-5 in the office seems daunting for many.
But, Ian Zapata, LEED-AP design director at Gensler, warns that the office itself should not look the same as it did last spring despite the steady return to in-person work.
“Companies face the reality of having to engage in a different real estate market, where there’s actually a glut of office space,” Zapata told D CEO. That is true: there are over 9 million square feet of active sublease office space in DFW alone, as companies try to rid themselves of extra costs. “I think that gives power to people that are renting to demand the type of space that they want,” he said.
This newfound power of office tenants forces landlords and developers of office spaces to provide the same comforts and amenities that make working from home so easy, like Amazon pickup locations or spaces to attend virtual doctors’ appointments. Zapata calls these amenities “experience superchargers” and expects them to be commonplace in the post-Covid office world.
While the trend of elevated office spaces was around pre-Covid, the pandemic has accelerated it, shining a spotlight on the need for healthy workplaces and office experiences. However, Zapata notes a difference between just a nice office building versus one that is designed with the future in mind.
“Baseline attractors are the things that check the box that you’ve always had in an office building, like a gym or a café,” he said. “No one’s going to lease in your building if you don’t have those things.” On the opposite end of the spectrum lies performance differentiators. Zapata defines these as amenities that would make an employee actively choose to go into the office instead of working from home. “These are the things that go above–and–beyond. We see this as making the office an experience.”
The idea of “making the office an experience” is the overarching message that Zapata feels the pandemic has forced upon those who work in commercial real estate.
A survey done by KPMG found that 69 percent of CEOs are planning to downsize office space, meaning that the spaces that they do keep must be both functional and effective for maintaining a company’s culture. The most important element of the new workplace will be the human connection that it brings. Zapata notes that the three C’s, culture, community, and collaboration, will be at the center of this workplace shift.
“One thing that I think stands out as a difference is this idea that the function of the office or the focus of the office changes,” Zapata said. “Maybe means that I need a different type of office that isn’t so much about desks and tables, but more so about the social spaces where you can sit and collaborate, like lounge spaces and meeting rooms.”
Keeping with the trend following ideas championed by West Coast tech companies, outdoor community, and the workspace will be one of the top demands that tenants have as they come back to the office, Zapata predicts.
“It’s spaces that aren’t just pretty to look at, but can be an extension of the workplace, where you can have meetings, you can have collaboration, and you can give employees places to recharge,” he says. Outdoor workspaces can also help to ease some Covid-related concerns that employees returning to work may have.
New technologies can also help to ease Covid worries while also elevating the overall office experience. Technology being an extension of the workplace is a trend that the pandemic has accelerated, and now we will see it in office spaces themselves. Touchless security and air quality monitors will be the new normal and improved office-to-home connectivity to increase productivity when working in a hybrid in-person and at-home schedule.
“There’s going to be this whole technology overlay that helps me navigate my trip to the office so my relationship to the office can be managed through a whole host of concierge app-enabled services that let me plan ahead,” Zapata said.
All of this comes together to create a major shift in the reality of what companies will need out of their office buildings in a post-Covid world. The pandemic has sped up this shift, giving power to tenants and shifting the focus of landlords away from the density of an office building to the building’s quality.
Point blank: “The way that we interact with our buildings is going to change,” Zapata said.