Not so fast.
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers working remotely during the pandemic would like to continue doing so, according to one Gallup poll. And for those who return to the office, even if rarely in the months to come, the notion of “return” needs to be rethought.
There is no going back to what was. The past nine months have forced a drastic reset of work, home and all points in between. The upheaval in commercial real estate is allowing businesses to be more selective about their needs, from open windows to declining employee / bathroom ratios. An uncertain pandemic economy means expansion for some sectors and downsizing for others. And studies show that more than a fifth of adults have moved due to COVID or know someone who has done it; how it affects their desire or ability to commute remains another unknown.
And yet, the office does not disappear entirely. In fact, it might be more necessary than ever as companies pivot to new realities and forge bonds among a workforce that, in very few cases, looks identical to what is known as the era. former.
“The future of the office market is productivity. The location of the offices may not change much, “said Carmen Perkins, executive vice president of Washington, DC-based Civitas Commercial Real Estate Services LLC.” It’s the use of this space that is changing. ”
Create a work culture
Post-pandemic offices will focus more particularly on creating and representing the culture of a company. This mission will animate physical spaces with more sub-committee rooms and meeting places. It will dictate who comes to the office and why. Reasons to get together: integration, training, meetings, team building and collaboration.
“We are the quintessential technology company. We have the most flexible work schedule, ambitious paternity and maternity programs, unlimited vacations, ”said Nick Romito, Founder and CEO of VTS, a technology platform for commercial real estate. “Even as liberal as we are to give people flexibility, it’s still very difficult. You invest all that time in building a great team, these teams want to be together. It’s really hard to push your mind when you’re staring at a screen all day. “
Yet despite concerns over Zoom fatigue, the democratized nature of the virtual gathering is something that managers want to preserve.
“Big companies that are more geographically dispersed have really given thought to engineering Zoom conversations. CEOs were able to interface with cross-functional teams in a more productive and democratic way, ”said Perkins. “Space becomes a question of maintaining and building culture. The pursuit of cross-contamination of ideas is very important. They want to preserve it.
The WFH is here to stay
Before the pandemic, journeys were grow longer; Americans’ average commute reached a record 27 minutes one way in 2018, according to the U.S. Census.
Families have made important decisions in the life of this pandemic to better balance home and work – to be closer to family, buy second homes by the lake or in the woods, renovate or create offices in the guest room or in the basement. Areas once considered remote or exurban are more affordable, offer more space, and perks like hiking trails and shorter lines to Costco.
Based on data from the third quarter of 2020, as rents in the country’s major downtown office markets have softened, companies are renewing leases at a faster pace than in 2019, said Dennis Perkins , founder and president of Civitas and husband of Carmen. This “tells us that in a downturn, businesses have chosen to stay put and maintain a consistent urban presence.” However, while businesses stay downtown, he says their workers are moving to the suburbs.
“You are seeing growth across the region,” said Dennis Perkins. “You are seeing an interest in cities like Baltimore, where you can still work in Washington, but have a cheaper lifestyle, especially if technology and changes in office use allow you to travel less often.”
The office of the future is a much more flexible place
Even before COVID, companies were loath to sign long-term leases in order to maintain flexibility in hiring and firing. It will continue or increase.
Civitas, a commercial real estate brokerage and consulting firm, has a client who asked their architect to develop transitional spaces and install modular movable walls.
VTS, the real estate platform, has hired 75 people since the start of the pandemic, and will be returning to the office at a much different company now (325 people) compared to then (250 people).
“That’s a lot of people you’ve never met in person,” Romito said. “When you invest in culture and people, you can’t take it all overnight and translate it into a remote environment.”
Design and ventilation really matter
Even after vaccinations, real estate experts predict a transition to close quarters after months, if not years, of social distancing. This has kept the desire for office space – 13,000 square feet being the average size sought, according to VTS – about the same; fewer people will come to the office or shift schedules, but they want to maintain safe distances.
“People need to feel safe and healthy, that the environment is clean, and that these are healthy green buildings, not just energy efficient,” said Dennis Perkins. This includes, he says, cleaning protocols, improved air filters and filtration systems, elevator occupancy maximums and directional signage in common areas and offices.
Homes need to evolve better to support work – and women
Remember how office parks turned into mini-cities with game rooms, bowling alleys, daycares, dry cleaners, and post offices? Now imagine all these services closer to you, maybe even in your apartment complex. Carmen Perkins discusses the disproportionate burden of the pandemic on women and the need for housing to better support families.
“Women have taken on more of the home schooling and scheduling management, not to mention being short-term cooks,” she laughs. “We have seen new multi-family developments responding to the work-life balance. The interesting and attractive buildings that rise up in Washington feature integrated coworking spaces and flexible, family-friendly amenities like game rooms. It is not the workspace that takes over. “
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