Since the clouds rolled in and the pandemic impacts began to be felt globally last spring, there has been a lot of speculation as to how this event would shape the workplace going forward. We traded our neckties for masks and the handshake gave way to the fist bump—or the never graceful elbow tap. Five quarters ago, it appeared that life would be forever changed and some even speculated that office space’s best days were behind us.
Collectively, we got quite adept at using the cameras on our devices, and quite surprisingly, the “last mile” of bandwidth at our homes, for the most part, performed well. However, over time, the novelty of video conferences diminished, and you only had to log on to one video happy hour to realize it was not a replacement for the real thing. But, we soldiered on.
Albeit not known for his poetry, Quentin Tarantino once said, “you can’t write poetry on the computer.” There are audiophiles that will take the pops and hisses of a vinyl record over digital recordings due to the warmth and depth of analog music. Our lives can be supported digitally; however, those mediums sometimes fall short of sating us, often in ways we cannot explain.
The insular aspects of working from home can often take more than they give. Perhaps the greatest revelation of remote working was the increased awareness of what we were missing. Technology allowed us to meet, but it wasn’t the meetings, per se, that we missed, it was the connectivity within those meetings. It turns out that our workplaces are complex ecosystems of tangible and intangible aspects that need to be bound together, and technology could only take us so far. We also learned that while remote work lacked these connections, it was often more comfortable–an important distinction.
So, where are we? Most of us have a deeper appreciation for our professional relationships and value the workplace more–not the bricks and sticks, but the interpersonal synapses that allow us to bring out the best in each other. In reality, the pandemic is serving as an affirmation of what was already afoot: the workplace needs to be an environment that feeds and supports connections and relationships.
Going forward, demand for office space isn’t going anywhere. In fact, we will see a more rapid evolution of what was already started–experiential real estate. Tenants will continue to flow into well-amenitized properties; and those amenities won’t just be in the envelope, many users will be incorporating more comfort and livability within their workplaces.
This shared experience has underscored the importance of mentoring, collaboration, sharing, and simply enjoying the people with whom we work. Workplace designs will create and foster cultural development and adhesion.
The pandemic has given us a truly unique perspective. For the first time ever, we have spent extended periods of time working together, remotely. We have discovered quite clearly that the workplace and the workforce are two distinct things. This discovery has pushed us into a rapid evolution of workplace design and function, and for those who embrace it, that is our silver lining.
Ran Holman is the executive vice president and Texas market leader for Newmark.