You Can Ignore All Those Future of the Workspace Predictions, Articles & Webinars

Redesign. Retrofit. Reconfigure.

The hottest topic surrounding the return to work these days centers around employers thinking about ways to bring employees back while mitigating the potential spread of the virus. The consensus seems to be that companies will bring office workers back in staggered waves and encourage some employees to work from home a few days a week in rotation to allow for “de-densification.” It seems every workplace thought leader and commercial real estate (CRE) firm across the world thinks they know what the ‘future workplace’ or ‘new normal’ will be. The fact is that none of us know.

In fact, I think the best and most honest and accurate prediction so far has come from University of Michigan professor, author, and innovation expert Dr. Jeff DeGraff. He went to say, “What’s going to happen next? The answer is I don’t know and neither do you. Could you imagine asking all your Facebook friends how to do a root canal? You don’t know any more about virology than you know about a root canal. The notion is no one knows. Leave room for things that could happen. You have to be able to deal with the ambiguity that’s part of a creative mindset.”

What the Experts Are Saying

Cushman & Wakefield created a 300-page manual on safely reopening offices, including advice for every part of the workday from the moment an employee leaves their home. Their own Amsterdam office is testing a workplace setup they’re calling the “Six-Feet Office.” Transparent shields divide desks, markers direct foot traffic and disposable desk pads catch germs and can be discarded when a worker leaves for the day.

Colliers believes the focus now and for the foreseeable future is twofold:

1. Business continuity and preparedness: How do businesses operate effectively, working remotely or in split operations, and preparation to negate future disruptions?

2. Well-being of employees: How do businesses take measures to keep employees safe, healthy and productive?

JLL is also saying the obvious and proposing that workplace strategists and designers will have an ever-more important role to play in shaping the future of places and spaces where we can come together to connect, work productively and be inspired. They are suggesting that inevitably, this experience will lead to a shift in how corporate real estate managers think about their office requirements, accelerating existing trends, and prompting new ones.

JLL also believes that companies will find that they need to adapt quickly to a whole new world and build their business, and more importantly their company culture, in a much more evolutionary, virtual and flexible way. Another glaringly obvious fact in which we are all well aware.

CBRE is suggesting that all work environments will require careful consideration and tailored plans. They believe that it is critical to establish a centralized, multidisciplinary task force as soon as possible to help plan and oversee recovery efforts across office and real estate portfolios and many other commercial real estate firms are following suit.

For occupants, they put safety, health and well-being at the forefront along with solidifying relationships with key stakeholders which they say should be reset, as companies mobilize to come back to the workplace. Just like everybody else, they too think companies should establish a plan that enables gradually increasing the number of people who return to work.

The one thing that does make sense is their understanding that the facility readiness process is extensive, and no detail is too small to consider. Occupiers and property owners need to begin taking tangible steps to change the physical environment that support physical distancing and other safety practices.

Gensler at least acknowledges that it’s too early to understand the full extent of the new skills and habits we’re developing, but that it’s not too early to start planning for how we can return hundreds of thousands of people to the workplace once the quarantines end. Some of the obvious suggestions they’re proposing is de-densification of workstations, limiting technology sharing, heightened cleaning measures, upgraded air purification systems, adding antimicrobial materials to the mix and practicing good hygiene. Good hygiene, really? Is anybody saying anything insightful.

What Will the Workspace Look Like?

The truth of the matter is that in the next four to six to eight weeks as people begin to go back to work, companies are not going to have the time or the ability to remodel offices. Employees will be looking for reassurance from you that they are being protected and that the business is prepared to look after them now and for the future.

It seems we’re all on the same page, workplace designers, CRE firms, the A&D community and we’re all just recycling the same major themes and calling them our own — Re-Occupying Office Environments, Real Estate Strategies, Health & Wellness Priorities, Workplace Strategies, Enhancing Culture Positioning, and Technology Integrations.

Giving people active roles in designing the future workspace for your company puts their heads in a constructive and committed space. It can help your organization weather this challenging time and reposition your business for success.

The fact is, the office will look different and, yes, health & safety will be at the forefront of the less-densified spaces we’ll all soon be occupying. Some workers will continue working remote and most companies will champion a staggered return to the workspace for their employees until they’re comfortable that there is nothing to be concerned about.

Beyond that though, we are all just guessing.

About the Author
Rob Kubiak is Director, Research & Analytics for Wurkwel Ventures, LLC, a holding company consisting of a portfolio of businesses that focus on the needs of corporate tenants when expanding, relocating or downsizing their office space. He is a marketing professional with over fifteen years of experience in a variety of facets of marketing, sales, business development and research & analytics. When he’s not expounding on what to expect from the workplace of the future he enjoys consuming copious amounts of HI-CHEW candies and gummy bears while taking continuing educational courses.