The pandemic we’re currently facing is by far the biggest disruption in our lifetime. Labor Day was intended to be a turning point for many commercial office re-entry plans. Although the Delta coronavirus variant forced some tenants to postpone reopening dates, others are proceeding with phased re-entry programs.

Deep into the pandemic, many proclaimed the office dead and predicted companies would shift to a primarily work-from-home structure.

Much of the U.S. workforce still works remotely. But here at Building Engines, we’re confident that disruption by no means signals the end of office usage.

Continuing the Shift to Flexibility

Instead, COVID-19 will accelerate the shift to flexibility between home and office, and change the way we inhabit workspaces. Even prior to the pandemic, tenants were rethinking the amount of space they needed, prompted by the coworking movement.

Office workers have migrated to using Slack or Microsoft Teams instead of relying on email for every work communication, and ride-sharing instead of driving our own cars. Similarly, this pandemic is spurring improvements in office work/life balance, increasing efficiency and flexibility among other benefits.

But the fact remains that many people want to return to the office. Or at least, they want the option to do so, even if not full time, for reasons including:

  • Lack of a proper set up at home
  • Too many distractions with kids, roommates, or pets
  • They feel more productive and thrive more in an office setting
  • Virtual collaboration can be less efficient and effective than in-person collaboration
  • They miss being social

For employers, in-office work promotes teamwork, personal and meaningful connections, and creativity. Possibly most importantly, it drives a stronger sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps.

Staircase in a commercial office building.

Companies Leading Commercial Office Change

So now we continue the challenge of reopening our buildings, our workspaces. To ensure smooth transitions, we’ve seen many of our customers implement creative strategies to safely reopen. One such example is Cushman & Wakefield.

Using lessons gathered in China, World Health Organization data, and the advice of medical specialists, Cushman & Wakefield developed a new concept inside its Amsterdam headquarters dubbed the Six Feet Office.

The core premise is to ensure six feet of space between building occupants at all times. (The Center for Disease Control recommends at least six feet of space for safe social distancing.) Cushman & Wakefield encourages this behavior by using proper desk and amenity spacing along with visual signals, such as a circle embedded in the carpeting around each desk, to ensure people don’t get too close.

Creative ideas like Cushman & Wakefield’s show just how innovative our customers can be. And they illustrate the commitment of industry thought leaders to ensuring the office’s survival.

As spaces move to becoming more flexible—not just in terms of leasing options, but in how a space is used—software will facilitate more of these changes.

How Technology Can Help

Even as office usage changes rapidly, tenants expect consistent service levels in their buildings. Luckily, technology has evolved almost as rapidly as the pandemic.

Software platforms and point solutions are streamlining routine operations processes. They’re empowering property teams to make better decisions about equipment maintenance, data analysis, leasing strategy, communication with occupants, and more.

Building operations aside, current events have forced us to realize we can use spaces and building functions more efficiently and flexibly. To encourage commercial office utilization, companies are implementing more remote, flexible forms of working. This involves some combination of traditional offices with remote collaboration technology, a range of coworking centers, and remote work.

As many industries face a hiring crunch, executives are hungry to determine the right incentives to retain and attract top talent. According to a Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) United States Pulse Survey, 65 percent of employees across all industries are looking for a new job. Thirty-four percent cite lack of flexibility as the major reason behind their decision to do so.

Business people walking in a commercial office.

Employees Want Options

Tenants are looking to upgrade current spaces to support higher levels of remote working. They want collaborative spaces that bridge the gap between people who regularly work in the office and those who work remotely.

Some companies are building designated Zoom rooms, robust conference space options, and designing remote onboarding programs. No matter what is realistic for your organization, the key is staying flexible and being able to adapt.

With pandemic restrictions now loosened, employees are looking for options when it comes to human interaction and a separation from home life. Probably even more so now after having been mandated to work away from teams. People crave settings in which they can safely socialize, with outdoor spaces proving a particular favorite. Culture is where the physical commercial office has an indisputable advantage over the home office.

A Bright Future for Commercial Office Space

The current pandemic environment will continue to drive new, more effective and efficient norms between at-home and in-office working. These will benefit employers, employees, building owners, and operators.

We’re confident COVID-19 does not mean offices will cease to exist. Office space is and always will be necessary, although it will most certainly continue to change.

Building Engines’ building operations platform, Prism, was specifically built to adapt to the evolutions of commercial real estate. To learn how our platform supports property teams as their needs evolve, watch the Building Engines on-demand webinar: Introduction to Prism.