The COVID Office Design Revolution is Real
It’s no secret that bringing your employees back to the corporate office will require a change to the office environment itself. Like many businesses, we at FWI and SmartSpace Global are undertaking an office redesign to accommodate bringing staff back during COVID. However, we’re not only solving the COVID-driven “back to work” challenge with this redesign, we’re also using this opportunity to create a more flexible working environment that will accommodate an Activity-Based Working (ABW) approach for a post-COVID world.
“We are experiencing a cultural shift that carries through not only where we work, but how we work.” says Kelly Byrom, Chief Design Officer, Four Winds Interactive. “Our people need flexibility and a continued sense of belonging, are critical to our hybrid work strategy.” FWI is finding solutions that prioritize both workplace health and safety needs now and will continue to deliver value as we evolve our office environment for a more hybrid, ABW-style work environment for the post-COVID future.
Office Design Trends in a Post-COVID World
There’s quite a bit of research being done in the world today about what the next-generation office environment should look like. One particularly interesting report on how office design is changing to meet the challenges imposed by COVID was recently released by the Wall Street Journal. One participant in this article is RXR Realty, the owner of over 25 million square feet of real estate space. RXR is clearly motivated to find the right formula for how to safely bring their employees and employees of their tenants back into the corporate office.
“Our objective is to use the tools and technologies we’ve implemented to make the new abnormal at the office feel as normal as possible,” said Scott Rechler, CEO, RXR Realty. “We wanted to test out what we put in place for ourselves to make sure it works as our tenants come back.”
RXR is embracing technology solutions to solve the “back to work” challenge with their own staff:
- RXR employees begin their day by opening their company’s app to answer a series of health questions. Once cleared (based on their answers), they are given the go-ahead to enter the company’s office building.
- Thermal cameras are in use in the lobby area of RXR buildings to take employee temperatures as they walk through the lobby, creating the ability to detect any potentially problematic situations.
RXR is also testing models such as reduced seating in conference rooms, occupancy models that keep floors at 50% capacity, plexiglass dividers between workstations, and others to prevent the spread of the virus and provide for employee health and safety.
A recent article published by NPR on COVID-motivated office redesign efforts broadens the need to focus on human health in office environments in general, rather than just in response to the current worldwide pandemic. “There will be another epidemic or another pandemic—or there might just be another flu season,” says Eve Edelstein, co-founder of the research-based design consultancy Clinicians for Design. “Let’s go ahead and design for that reality.”
COVID Office Design in the Hybrid Workplace
Designing for flexibility is key. The 8am-5pm workday is a thing of the past, and for many of us who work in technology, it’s been gone for a while already. While maintaining the hybrid model of both remote and in-office working options was already a norm for many businesses even pre-COVID, businesses with more traditional policies have had to adapt quickly in recent times.
In a recent Gallup poll, survey results showed that the percentage of workers who say their employer is offering them flex time or remote work options has grown from 39% at that time to 57% in the latest polling, conducted March 30-April 2. It’s important to note that this time period coincides with when the US was first beginning to make the transition to remote work due to the first wave of COVID in the US. The poll went on to ask if employees would prefer to return to the office as much as they previously did or work remotely as much as they possibly could. This question was answered with 59% preferring to work at home as much as possible, and 41% preferring to return to the previous in-office-only model. Flexibility between the office environment and working at home is clearly the preference of today’s workforce and is becoming adopted as the standard for today’s businesses.
Requirements for Returning to the Office After Covid-19
McKinsey research also agrees with the concept of office redesign being a requirement—and office redesign being an evolving thing. “Many companies will require employees to wear masks at all times, redesign spaces to ensure physical distancing, and restrict movement in congested areas (for instance, elevator banks and pantries). As a result, even after the reopening, attitudes toward offices will probably continue to evolve.” A large part of this evolution will be focused on how office design can accommodate the needs of collaboration—a primary reason for employees to be in a shared environment.
One fair question to consider that the McKinsey researchers pose is this: “If the primary purpose of an organization’s space is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration rather than individual work, for example, should 80 percent of the office be devoted to collaboration rooms?” In a world where 100% of employees work in the office environment 100% of the time, this design concept would be ridiculous, but it could be quite reasonable in the new world of COVID office design.
Post-COVID Office Design: Smart Office Solutions
Let’s circle back to the concept of using technology to meet the needs of the new office environment. Clearly, resources dedicated to an individual, like desks or conference rooms are a thing of the past. Therefore, hot desking tools and meeting room booking systems are required—and those will require technology.
Making your workspace “smart” is also about being able to determine if it’s currently occupied, how many people are making use of it, the last time it was sanitized, etc. This level of detail in workplace analytics and office insights is highly valuable for many reasons, including real estate cost optimization, health and safety needs, and flexible employee working arrangements. Aligning how space can be reserved both for individual and group needs should align with how people use technology in their personal lives—which, today is synonymous with an intuitive mobile app. And not just surfacing the core technology, but an office hoteling app that takes user experience—and for IT leaders out there, the all-important concept of user adoption—very seriously.
COVID Office Design Solutions from SmartSpace Global
Clearly, I’m leading to a point. With SmartSpace Global, we understand you need to provide an office environment that accounts for employee needs in a COVID world, but also for employee desires for a flexible working environment that comes after COVID. Most businesses are certainly reconsidering their office design. Let us help you take that journey. Reach out and set up a workshop with our experts to dive into your needs, help design a solution, and implement the technology you need to build the kind of office that will help keep your employees safe, increase productivity, and decrease real estate costs.
Thanks for taking the time to read this today, hope you find it helpful.
Chief Marketing Officer
Four Winds Interactive