With most office workers working remotely for the last 18 months, COVID has fundamentally changed the way we work. The relative success of remote working means employees want and need different things from office layout now.

Obviously office layouts need to address hygiene concerns. But COVID has also made clear that offices must facilitate collaboration more than heads down work—which is arguably better done at home. COVID has also heightened the importance of working in an environment that’s conducive to good mental health and wellbeing.

The easiest way to plan how to incorporate hygiene, collaboration, and good mental health into office design is with good software.

What Employees Want From an Office Now

Employees haven’t yet begun transitioning back from their home office to actual offices at scale. But as the COVID pandemic recedes, workers are likely to be fully back in the office by Q2 2022. Property teams looking to attract tenants and employees back into largely vacant spaces must understand how the pandemic has changed what people want and need from their offices.

Real estate services company Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) published a report in September 2021 on what employees want from their workplace when they go back to the office. Titled “Regenerative Workplace: Restoring employee wellbeing to achieve sustainable performance,” the report argues people expect their employers to be “more caring and their workplace to offer a new regenerative experience.”

(Full disclosure: JLL acquired Building Engines in November.)

JLL’s report is based on a global survey of over 3,000 office workers in 10 countries. It found employees enjoyed the flexibility working from home entails. But they also faced isolation, stress, and difficulties maintaining barriers between work and personal life. And they miss the social aspect of their work life.

“Fundamentally, employees expect their company to have a long-term commitment to ensuring their health and wellbeing, which will include a new Regenerative Workplace to help them recover from the trauma of the pandemic.”

It should be obvious, but a sense of community is vital for employers to drive high levels of collaboration, innovation and engagement. “Only 36% of the workforce are able to maintain strong working and personal interactions with colleagues at a distance.”

JLL found one-third of employees lack access to any health and wellbeing amenities. Where these amenities are offered, uptake is high—60 percent to 70 percent use them on a weekly basis.

Expectations for Services and Amenities

  • Relaxation spaces 45%
  • Healthy food services 44%
  • Outdoor spaces 41%
  • Social spaces 37%
  • Fitness centers 36%

(% of respondents naming this as one of their top three expectations.)

A Hygienic Office Layout

Of course, no employee will willingly go back to an office where they feel unsafe. So office layout is a key part of ensuring safety in a post-COVID world. And while office layout isn’t necessarily a property team’s responsibility, being able to help tenants make best use of their space is a powerful differentiator for closing leases and sales.

Open Planning

Open office layout

Open plan offices were touted as fostering greater teamwork and collaboration, but growing evidence suggests the opposite is true. (And some will admit the greatest benefit of open plan offices is that they’re cheaper and faster to build.) Open plans also happen to limit the amount of surface area employees touch and are easier to clean.

Governments may or may not mandate a six-foot distance between workstations. Regardless, employees will feel safer if employers ensure appropriate social distance in accordance with CDC guidelines.

In open plans, this means reducing the number of employees at large tables. A table that used to fit ten people now may need to seat four, with the other six needing to work from home. (An arrangement that dovetails nicely with the greater flexibility employees are looking for.)

Businesses in sectors where people can’t work from home will need to suck it up and invest in separate desks to comply with the new guidelines, or reconfigure tables. “In many cases, this can mean needing a new space plan to modify your existing space or taking larger space to safely accommodate the same number of employees,” according to tenant brokerage firm Vicus Partners in 6 Office Design Trends In Post-Covid-19 World.

Reconfiguration Requires Visualization

The fastest and easiest way to reconfigure space plans is with space management software. It gives you a visual representation of a building with a breakdown of space, showing tenant data in real-time. When you want to visualize changes, interactive floor plans mean you don’t have to rely on architects or CAD software. You can take quick measurements, see floor plans with tenant info, and reimagine tenant space on-demand.

Show, Don’t Tell

When it comes to helping people keep appropriate social distances and crowd density, use signs. Whether it’s floor stickers, signs, or emblems, provide visual cues for where to stand, wait for an elevator, or at reception. In offices with narrow corridors, consider making some one-way.

Touchless Technology

This technology is inherently more hygienic and potentially allows you to track data points. For example, you can use motion sensors to automatically operate faucets, turn lights on and off, and open and close doors. These sensors can generate data illustrating how amenities are being used and offer insight into upcoming maintenance needs.

One of the most useful touchless technologies is the mobile phone app. Tenant experience (TeX) apps can allow tenants and employees to book everything from loading docks to meetings rooms to elevators and A/V systems—without needing to open a door or touch a pen.

Collaborative Office Layout

Employees want more from offices now. They not only need to feel safe, they need their built environment to facilitate what offices are best for—collaboration and fostering a sense of community. An office layout needs to incorporate design that enables human moments and a variety of social interactions.

Think about how to draw people from different departments together. This could mean putting the kitchen near a central location so everyone has to pass other departments to get there. Or placing couches near a main entranceway so people entering and exiting can easily join informal conversations.

Pay attention to acoustics. Some areas need noise deadening features to facilitate focus and privacy; but others work better with a higher background buzz, such as communal areas like a kitchen or foyer.

Office Design for Mental Health and Wellbeing

As the JLL report mentioned, a plurality of employees want relaxation spaces, outdoor spaces, social spaces, and fitness centers at their office. According to Forbes, “87 percent of workers would like their current employer to offer healthier workspace benefits, with options ranging from wellness rooms, company fitness benefits, sit-stands, healthy lunch options and ergonomic seating.”

To attract and accommodate tenants, consider using the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) when building or redesigning an office layout. WELL is an international organization created to develop the premier standard for comfortable, healthy, and productive indoor environments.

The WELL Building Standard focuses on seven concepts of building performance: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind. As Forbes suggests, “even if you have no immediate plans (or the budget!) to become WELL Certified, [you] can still utilize the principles to help create a healthier environment.”

Office layout should incorporate plants as much as possible

Use Space Management Software to Redesign Your Office Layout

Property teams aware of employees’ changed expectations for the office experience will reduce vacancies faster in the post-COVID era. Utilize the principles of the WELL standard. Incorporate hygiene deeply into office layout, along with signs, touchless technology, and dedicated collaboration and wellbeing areas.

Architectural firms like designing new construction projects; not performing re-measurements on existing buildings. So avoid relying on architects for floor plan changes—or to view floor plans—which is time-consuming and costly.

Space management software offers an easier and cheaper way to visualize floor plans and maximize rentable square footage (RSF). It puts you in control of your floor plans and any changes you want to make.

To learn more about preparing commercial offices for a post-COVID world, read the Building Engines eBook, Commercial Office: 7 Keys to a Successful Post-COVID Workplace.