Why the office is not a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic

Contrary to popular belief, the office is, in fact, not dead.

Although many big corporations such as Twitter, Facebook, Shopify, and Upwork have announced permanent work-from-home measures and sold loads of corporate real estate, the question remains if offices have truly become futile.

Looking at the data, it is evident that while people still want to work from home, most want the option to go into the office occasionally.

It is a fact that remote work cannot replicate the in-office culture. The office space cultivates collaboration, communication, and innovation, and enables idea-sharing, problem-solving and social interactions. Professional development and mentoring are significantly harder to accomplish remotely as well.

It is also possible that the initial excitement about working from home gave a false sense of office trajectory – 49% of workers enjoy working from home less than they did at the beginning of the pandemic. Assuming that people will want to remain at home forever does not take this statistic into consideration or the continued value of office space that it suggests.

Maybe those corporations started selling too soon.

However, it is the case that workplace flexibility is on the incline. This can (and has been) easily misinterpreted as wanting to work from home more often or even entirely, as people have expressed appreciation for the opportunity to work remotely that they’ve been requesting for years. However, people still don’t want to be told when, where, and how they should be working. This includes working from home.

Further, the office space offers plenty of amenities valued by employees: high-speed internet, a quiet space, networking opportunities, tech support. It makes sense that employees want access to these advantages still.

This is not to say that the office will emerge unchanged from the pandemic – that would be entirely incorrect. However, a complete transition from ‘bricks to clicks’ is unreflective of the desires of the workforce and the future of corporate real estate.

It is undeniable that remote work has much to offer for both personal satisfaction and company success, which will maintain it as an integral component of corporate structure. However, the pandemic has prompted a closer look at the value of corporate real estate and a re-assessment of current assets.

How to proceed?

So far, we’ve determined: the future is ambiguous. It’s not as clear-cut as all these remote work converts seem to convey. In fact, every organization is a unique case. The question is then: how does an organization develop a good real estate strategy?

In all of this, employee preferences are the most important consideration. Not only will particular attention to their needs and desires make employees feel valued and increase trust, but it will also give you an idea of what today’s talent is looking for and how to make your company more attractive to potential hires. This can be accomplished through surveys to your team, which collects their opinions and insights.

In the pandemic context, flexibility and sensitivity to individual needs are particularly important as not only will employees have remote work preferences, but most will have concerns about safety or restraints related to the pandemic that will inhibit them from coming back to work. Collecting data about, and distinguishing between, what their feelings are towards the present situation as well as the post-COVID world will also provide more detailed insights that can help you make both short- and long-term decisions on equipment, spatial arrangements, real estate, and more.

Trying to accommodate many individuals with their own circumstances, personalities, needs and desires will make the planning process anything but straightforward. This is why flexibility as the main principle leading your decisions and policies is crucial, as it will allow your employees to navigate what is best for them in any given circumstance without difficulty or disruption.

To read more on return to workspace planning, see our other articles:

Smart technology can also provide important data that can better inform your space-related decisions. Insights from tracking how much space, what types of spaces, and at what times space is being used can help adapt the current spaces to best suit company needs and employee preferences. Costs can even be reduced by downsizing the office space to suit the actual usage rather than at maximum capacity.

Besides shrinking office space, different arrangements such as hoteling services, creating satellite offices, outfitting conference spaces, and rearranging desks may be additional adjustments to your office space depending on your results.

Don’t fall for the headlines – the corporate real estate trends are not what they seem. The most widespread shift that has happened is not the selling of offices but rather the signing of shorter-term leases as companies are unsure of how the future will look and how to proceed.

There are no easy answers, but there are steps you can take to give your strategy more direction. Ultimately, your real estate strategy should not only reflect the needs of today but also those of tomorrow.