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Why COVID-19 Is Changing The Office, Not Ending It

Why COVID-19 is Changing the Office, Not Ending It

Disruptions of any kind change the way people do things, and the pandemic we’re currently facing is by far the biggest disruption of our lifetime. While there has been some speculation that the office is dead or companies will shift to a primarily work-from-home structure after much of the U.S. workforce has been remote for the last couple of months, here at Building Engines, we’re confident that this by no means signals the end of office usage. It will speed up a shift to flexibility between home and office and change the way we inhabit workspaces or the amount of space we need—as was started by the coworking movement—but buildings and offices will certainly continue to be part of running effective organizations.

We’re experiencing a very abrupt beginning to a new era of work and an evolution that was already happening. Similar to how we migrated to using Slack instead of only email for every work communication or ride-sharing instead of always driving our own cars, this will spur an important improvement in work life that features increased efficiency and more flexibility, among other benefits.

But, the fact remains that many people want to return to the office, or at least have the option to do so, for a variety of reasons: they don’t have the proper set up at home; they have too many distractions with kids, roommates or pets; they feel they’re more productive and thrive more in an office setting, or they miss being social. For employers, in-office work promotes teamwork, personal and meaningful connections, and creativity. The lists go on.

So now, we face the challenge of reopening our buildings, our workspaces and our economy. To ensure the transition moves forward smoothly, we’ve seen many of our customers begin to put plans in place to reopen their spaces. One such example is Cushman & Wakefield. Using learnings gathered in China, along with World Health Organization data and the advice of medical specialists, Cushman & Wakefield developed a new concept inside its own Amsterdam headquarters dubbed the Six Feet Office.

The core premise, for example, is to ensure that six feet, the recommended measurement for safe social distancing, stays between people at all times. This behavior is encouraged through properly spaced desks, but also 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 that the office is not going anywhere.

As spaces move to be more flexible – not just in leasing options, but flexibility in how a space is used – there’s more opportunity for software to manage and even drive those changes. Our Building Engines platform streamlines processes and allows owners/operators to make smarter decisions around proactive maintenance, data analysis, tighter communication with occupants, space visualization and more. Those that embrace and balance the progression of the way people want to work and utilize tools to help them do this well, will win.

As many have hypothesized, we’re also likely to see significant changes in office usage, types of leases and their flexibility and the types of occupants using office space. Why? Current events have forced us to realize that spaces and building functions can be more efficiently and flexibly used.

During a Business Insider Spotlight digital live event last month, Business Insider’s Dan Geiger spoke with a host of industry experts about how the crisis accelerated trends that are already underway in the real estate world. Companies are considering a more remote, flexible form of working and this path forward includes some combination of traditional offices with virtual reality technology, a range of coworking centers and remote work. No matter what the viable option for organizations is, the key is staying flexible and being able to adapt.

When restrictions due to the pandemic start to loosen, people will value the option for human interaction and a separation from home life, probably even more so now after having been mandated to work away from our teams. People crave social settings and the physical space that an office can offer, which we will likely need once it’s safe to return.  The current environment will continue drive new, more effective and efficient norms between at-home and in-office working that will benefit employers, employees, building owners and operators.

We’re confident that COVID-19 does not mean offices will cease to exist. Office space is and always will be necessary, although it will most certainly change. The Building Engines platform, built to withstand the evolutions of CRE, will be there to support you each and every step of the way.

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