History tells us we’ve seen such situations before. “No pandemic or plague or natural disaster has killed off ‘the city,’ or humanity’s need to live and work in urban clusters,” says the Brookings Institute. “Not the Black Plagues of the 14th century, or London’s cholera epidemic in the 1850s, or even 1918’s Spanish Flu, which killed tens of millions of people worldwide. That’s because cities’ concentration of people and economic activity – which serves as the motor force for innovation and economic growth – is just too strong.” The modern city will be with us going forward, but it won’t be the same. In just a few weeks, says Gallup, Americans have come to increasingly value “low-contact” services such as virtual doctor visits and curbside pick-ups. These evolving preferences could remain with us long after the virus has passed according to Gallup. Despite a preference for low-contact services, people are ready for a normal work life. According to a recent Bloomberg article, people are feeling overworked, stressed and eager to get back to the office. For many people the office is much more than simply an address to report to work, the office can help define a company brand, promote safe employee engagement and could help boost retention and recruitment efforts, giving an organization an edge over competitors. It follows that if society in general is changing then commercial office space must also evolve. COVID-19 has revealed opportunities for new and better ways to be productive, ways which will probably not be forgotten when the pandemic ends.
The new office: part of a larger pictureFor the most part the “new office” will not be powered by futuristic technologies. Instead, we will largely see the adoption of systems and ideas already available. You can already see some surprising changes – the Supreme Court has agreed for the first time to hear cases by phone and in just a few weeks Goldman Sachs arranged for 98% of its employees to work from home offices. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that about 60 million U.S. employees can potentially telecommute at least half time. The company also calculates that five million employees – about 3.6% of the US workforce — now work from home at least on a part-time basis. These numbers suggest a few possible long-term changes:
- Offices will be re-arranged to accommodate new social distancing standards and those who work in commercial offices will have more space while working in-office, one of the most important amenities of all.
- If more of us work from home part-time it means, there will be fewer cars on the roads. Commuting will be easier and there will be less pollution.
What the new office will look like“The virus will dictate when we can eventually return to places of work and commerce, but the time to prepare is now,” said John Forrester, President of Cushman & Wakefield and Executive Chair of its Recovery Readiness Task Force. The company has prepared a 34-page guide entitled Recovery Readiness A How-To Guide For Reopening Your Workplace. It’s based on Cushman & Wakefield’s experience helping clients and employees since April move “back into more than 800 million square feet of properties globally.” The Cushman & Wakefield guide lists six workplace readiness essentials:
- Prepare the Building: cleaning plans, pre-return inspections, HVAC & mechanicals checks.
- Prepare the Workforce: mitigating anxiety, policies for deciding who returns, employee communications.
- Control Access: protocols for safety and health checks, building reception, shipping and receiving, elevators, visitor policies.
- Create a Social Distancing Plan: decreasing density, schedule management, office traffic patterns.
- Reduce Touch Points and Increase Cleaning: open doors, clean desk policy, food plan, cleaning common areas.
- Communicate for Confidence: recognize the fear in returning, communicate transparently, listen and survey regularly.