Most of the professionals who have been working from home during the pandemic will eventually end up in a familiar location for their jobs, according to reports by real-estate giant Cushman & Wakefield and a host of researchers. Focus groups conducted by Cushman & Wakefield with owners, occupiers and placemakers for its Workplace Ecosystems of the Future report were clear: “professionals in commercial real estate, for the most part, do not expect the office to go away.”
Yes, the workplace of the future–and the near future–will probably include an office, according to many scholars, researchers, and professional organizations. Despite the boom in remote working during the past year, important benefits from more traditional work locations suggests that the office is here to stay. Isolation, for example, has taken a toll on high-frequency remote workers, according to many reports. Fatigue from frequent videoconferencing has also been documented.
“Pre-pandemic research and new studies carried out during lockdown show a stark increase in loneliness for employees assigned to work-from-home environments,” according to Arthur C. Brooks, the William Henry Bloomberg Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School. “Besides the human toll, loneliness leads to higher rates of employee burnout, turnover, and disengagement. And contrary to widely held assumptions, better technology is not increasing a sense of connectedness, and in many cases actually has the opposite effect when depended upon as a substitute.”
Management consultancy Seyfarth at Work said that face-to-face conversations with colleagues was the number one activity that employees said they missed in a recent survey. Those surveyed also reported looking forward to having more daily structure from office-based work. “People loved the cooperative feeling of being in a workplace with colleagues,” Philippe Weiss, President of Seyfarth at Work, told CNBC about the survey results. “What was surprising was that even 16 percent said they missed the commute.”
Corporate executives, meanwhile, continue to value physical offices. According to a recent US Remote Work Survey done by consultancy PwC, 65% of managers “believe the office is ‘very important’ to increasing employee productivity, while over half also consider the office very important for employee collaboration, providing spaces to meet with clients, and enabling the company culture.”
Over the next year, the first and most obvious changes to offices will likely be related to Covid-19. “I believe that companies around the country will have to adapt their practices in an effort to protect the safety and well-being of their employees,” says Jennifer Burton, President of Interior Motions, which provides furniture solutions for any size project, from individual chairs or desks to servicing the needs of Fortune 500 clients. “These office changes could take shape in a range of ways: bringing in only half of the faculty at a time, implementing sanitation protocols, and establishing different kinds of collaborative spaces. Because it is unlikely that all employees will return to the office simultaneously, I expect there to be a heightened sense of importance surrounding the time spent in the office, a feeling of ‘Let’s make the most of our time here.’ ”
Apart from social-distances demands, relatively little short-term change is expected in commercial building layouts, according to Cushman & Wakefield. Longer term, the report foresees offices with expanded communal spaces “such as conference rooms of various sizes, huddle rooms, and social areas for people to congregate—cafe´s, hospitality-style sitting areas, village greens, and more.”
Business experts and interior design firms agree that workspaces will become more flexible in various ways. “Because every office culture is unique and every business has different goals they want to accomplish, office interior trends are largely company-specific,” notes Burton. “With that being said, I think Covid-19 has necessitated the use of flexible furniture, modular spaces, and impermanent workstations. For example, many companies are prioritizing the individual needs of their employees by equipping them with sit-to-stand desks in semi-private areas confined by modular walls. The modular walls minimize their exposure to other employees while the sit-to-stand desks allow them to adjust their workstations. Additionally, workstations are increasingly becoming spaces that any employee can use at any time as opposed to each employee having a specified desk, in response to the unpredictability of employees’ office schedules.”
Many people underestimate the impact of the interior design of a space, according to Burton, who notes ample research shows that interior design can create psychological effects on those who use a particular space. “For example, natural light can increase productivity and alertness,” says Burton. “Furthermore, where people sit and what types of chairs they sit in affects the way they take in new information. These are all facts that employers should be mindful of when running a business.”
Covid-19 has only showcased the importance of maintaining flexible practices and prioritizing employees’ needs, according to Burton. “I think that these aspects of business should continue post-pandemic and that employers should provide their employees with options regarding the interior design in the office. Having a variety of soft chairs, hard chairs, collaborative spaces, semi-private workstations, etc. to choose from will make employees feel heard and accommodate their individual work styles.”
While the workplace of the future is expected to be an office, offices are also expected to become more flexible and more intentional spaces. Few employees want to work outside the office exclusively, according to research, while many companies are becoming more open to remote work on a part-time basis. The upshot? According to Cushman & Wakefield’s focus groups, when offices remain important but people are in the office less frequently, employees will look to their offices, and surrounding neighborhoods, to provide what they cannot get when working remotely. As a result, Hacienda and similar commercial developments–which have a range of desirable amenities and a central location close to transit, highly educated talent, shopping, healthcare, schools, and more–are expected to become more important than ever to companies seeking to keep employees happy.
For more information about the Cushman & Wakefield Workplace Ecosystems of the Future report, please visit www.cushmanwakefield.com/en/insights/covid-19/the-future-of-workplace.