Permanent Changes to Offices in a Post-COVID World

By James A. Schnur, CCIM
President and Designated Managing Broker
Integrated Real Estate Solutions

With social distancing restrictions and mask mandates lifting across the country, companies are turning their sights on ways to bring their employees back together in a physical space. Remote work has increased substantially, and with a large portion of workers finding similar or greater success working from home — and with lingering fears from COVID-19 still casting a shadow over the idea of interacting in public places — employers are quickly finding that they need to make serious changes to their offices if they want their employees to return to the physical office space. 

Though some companies are taking the drastic step of moving primarily toward remote work, the traditional office setup still provides important tools and opportunities for a business that a fully remote workforce cannot replicate. Facilitating more immediate and personal communication and collaboration, creating and cementing company culture, and offering a space where employees can laser focus on their tasks are all features that drive interest in employees wanting to return to a tangible office space. But these interests are balanced against genuine concerns. So for companies looking to attract their employees back into the office, explore ways to implement and address these considerations in a Post-COVID office space.

Safety First

Health and wellness are the obvious key concerns when exploring how to reopen an office. While the standard additions of easily accessible PPE and increased cleaning frequency are musts, there are more ways to boost confidence that the office is a safe space to re-enter.

Reducing physical touch-points through the integration of hands-free technology for door sensors, automatic sinks, soap dispensers, and elevator banks will ease concerns about viral cross-contamination, as employees can move through their spaces without physically touching everything. Increased ventilation is also a must — particularly with upgraded HVAC equipment. Higher grade MERV filters to scrub the office’s air of pollutants, pollen, allergens, and microbes will keep employees healthier and safer, as well as boost their peace of mind.

Reasons to Return

Employees have found that their home can achieve all the necessities that a “basic” office can offer, so the actual office will need to become a destination worth visiting. Employees are no longer willing to settle for feeling drab and uncomfortable in their offices, especially knowing they can take their work anywhere without suffering an impact to quality. This means upgraded aesthetics — such as real plants and inviting furniture — as well new design choices, to increase natural light and green spaces.

It also means providing amenities that give employees a reason to leave home. Better internet infrastructure, in-building gyms and fitness spaces, and access to outdoor spaces for dining or taking work outdoors are all major considerations that will push employees to return.

Less Touching, More Collaboration

Having gone so long without being in the bustle of a busy office, employees miss the buzz of in-person interaction. But many employees are still shy about getting too close to their coworkers. Businesses will need to consider how to space desks and workspaces out so employees can be within the same space, without being elbow-to-elbow.

Gone are the days of cramming as many employees together as possible in large co-working rows. Instead, employees will need to be more spread out, and have access to alternate seating options. Private booths and individual work pods that can be reserved will help garner interest from employees looking for dedicated focus. Larger collaborative areas with multiple seating options are also ideal, allowing employees to move around the space, or “hotel” individual spaces for a day at a time.

A Smaller Footprint

While some companies may need to retain their larger offices to accommodate for the larger area in-between individual desks and workspaces, others adapting to a partially hybrid workforce will find they do not need as much overall space anymore. Smaller offices and split floorplans will become the more attractive option for companies that find they’re splitting their workforce between in-office and remote workers, as this will save the organization from overspending on their lease.

Of course, co-tenants occupying space will find they need to have similar expectations for office decorum — such as health and wellness concerns — or else the tension of sharing space will drive employees back to their work-from-home situations. But the potential budget retained from renting more space than is needed will largely entice more employers to compromise with their office neighbors and find synergistic solutions to make the opportunity work in both employers’ favor.

The new ways of working are still being defined, but companies need to start preparing their offices now before they become caught off guard. With the reopening efforts moving faster than the lock-down efforts, and employees becoming increasingly anxious about the forecast of their company’s workplace expectations, employers need to gather and act on information quickly to ensure their offices —new or old — are ready for the return of workers.

If your company is looking for a new space to prepare for employees returning to in-person work, look to the brokers at IRES for help. The commercial tenant representative brokers at Integrated Real Estate Solutions proactively look at commercial real estate opportunities and solutions that make sense on all levels for our clients. Leverage your experience and expertise by talking to IRES about your plans and vision, and IRES can help guide your business to the next relocation opportunity that makes the most sense for your continued success.

Integrated Real Estate Solutions, Inc. provides clients with the in-depth knowledge and experience that is critical to determine the right path to your next move, lease renewal, or strategic re-positioning of your real estate portfolio. Contact us or call 847.550.0160 today about your needs, and put our success to work for you.

Author: Jim Schnur

Jim Schnur is the President and Designated Managing Broker of Integrated Real Estate Solutions, Inc. Jim started the firm in 2003 after almost 20 years negotiating and overseeing real estate transactions at Hewlett Packard Co. and Agilent Technologies, Inc.