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July 28, 2021

3 Questions of the Post-COVID Workplace

The post-COVID workplace can be tricky to navigate. Here are three questions to consider when approaching your workplace strategy.

As noted by Deloitte, as much as COVID changed workplace trends, they simultaneously “accelerated preexisting trends that shape how organizations understand location needs and demand for space, services, and amenities.” In other words, COVID in a sense was the push many companies needed in order to go beyond outdated office tendencies. 

Conversely, COVID has indeed changed things––and we’re not just talking about an in-flux of remote workers. As large swaths of the working population have now experienced extended work-from-home, hybrid (blended) workplace strategies are becoming the norm. The corporate real estate playbook is being re-written as in-person workplaces rush to re-open. From changing tenant/landlord dynamics and ever-evolving regulatory standards, to new cost implications and growing technology stacks––the physical workplace we return to may be in the same building we left it in, but may behave completely differently. 

The retreat from in-person working environments allowed companies the time and space to re-think the purpose and use of their offices altogether.

co-workers in masks talking

As your own company makes plans to re-open offices for hybrid and/or full-time, in-office workforces, consider the following questions of the post-COVID workplace: 

Question #1

Who wants to (and who should) come back to the office and how often should they be in the office? 

This first consideration can be tricky. Many organizations have sent out company-wide surveys to gauge employee preferences. As it turns out, about 50% of employees opt for a totally remote option, while the other half of employees prefer a hybrid option where they split time working from home and working in an office. In addition to these types of employee preference surveys, companies should also identify the roles and activities that depend on face-to-face interactions and cannot be performed remotely. 

Once all of this data has been collected and your headcount of returning employees is determined, you will then need to determine how often you want these targeted roles and functions to be in the office. Assuming you’re going with a hybrid model, you’ll have to determine how you’ll optimize the space. Will employees on different teams alternate days? Alternating days for teams working a couple days a week in the office is a great idea for reducing population density in the office.

Another consideration to those coming back to the office part-time is desk-sharing. Desk-sharing optimizes space and can help you downsize the office footprint in general (which can save on cost); however, it does come with health implications as they become hot spots for spreading germs. If desk-sharing is utilized, do you have the proper mechanisms to sanitize surfaces and spaces for the next team of employees? 

Question #2

In terms of space and safety, how should we approach redesigning our office? 

Redesigning office space is inevitable at this point. In fact, depending on the state (or even country) you’re in, you may have to address varying regulations about how close things like desks and chairs can be to each other. Social and physical distancing remains a prevalent trend in terms of workplace safety and employee comfort. As such, physical distancing should still be considered in your workplace strategy.

When redesigning your office space, it’s all about reducing employee density. Things like configuring workpoints that are at least six feet apart are now the new normal when it comes to redesigning office space. Another consideration for reducing employee density is the size and occupancy of meeting rooms. Many companies are focusing on spacing out larger size meeting rooms to maintain specific capacity limits so that employees can still maintain a safe distance. Meanwhile, small and huddle-type meeting rooms are favored for one or two people who may be engaging with a wider audience on video.

Similar to configuring desk distance, the break room and common areas are also experiencing quite the overhaul. Until it is safe to fully pack these intentional "Collision Spaces," seats and amenities are either being removed or temporarily blocked to accommodate more space in between employees during breaks and meals. High-touch areas, like door handles, buttons, and switches, are being replaced with motion activated systems or self-cleaning materials. 

Question #3

How do we make our employees feel safe enough to return to the workplace while still providing a good employee experience? 

A critical component of a workplace strategy is the direct engagement of the employee population. The focus on the employee experience is another perfect example of a preexisting trend that was accelerated in the world of COVID. Not only does a work environment have to be employee-centric, but furthermore centered around the health and well-being of employees. Yes, the initial shock of going fully remote in response to COVID in 2020 had its fair share of anxieties but now that employees have gotten a taste of working in the safety and comfort of their own home, many employees don’t feel their old office is a safe place to be. 

According to a recent survey, 58% of employees have said that they would “absolutely look for a new job if they weren’t allowed to continue working remotely in their current position.” Inflexible companies who try to mandate workers (who don’t feel safe with pre-COVID norms) back into the office have a high likelihood of losing out on talent and may have an even harder time finding new talent as well. 

To help settle the nerves of employees who are anxious about returning to the office, it’s critical to use clear, transparent communication to establish expectations and guidelines. 

Like any type of relationship, the communication of expectations and guidelines are key to reduce stress between two parties. Companies must clearly communicate that they are doing everything in their power to keep employees safe, as well as establish expectations and guidelines (such as mask requirements, social distancing, and plentiful means of disinfection) for everyone returning to the office. Furthermore, companies should be flexible and accommodating to those who still don’t feel safe leaving their home work environments. 

office work vs. remote work

Lastly, there is something to be said about calming the nerves of employees by incentivizing them to come back to the office. For example, Twitter has taken a couple different measures to calm nerves and enhance experiences with their new 50% capacity, hybrid workforce. The first is their requirement for employees to provide proof of vaccination in order to come back into the office––they are also opening up offices within their portfolio based upon COVID infection and vaccination rates. 

Secondly, and to enhance the employee experience, Twitter has also started to provide free breakfast and lunch to employees in their San Francisco and New York City offices. Employees now want perks when they’re coming to the office. If companies want employees to leave the comfort of their own home and commute to an office, then they must heed the desire for increased perks and incentives. 

Reimagining the workplace for a post-COVID world

As we rewrite the corporate real estate playbook (and consider the above questions) it’s important to move forward with an open mind. Because while reimagining the workplace in our post-COVID world has it’s fair share of challenges, it can be an exciting time for us to redefine not only our spaces, but how we work in general. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula to space planning––which is good, because each company’s workspace needs are unique. 

Saltmine platform social distancing

Saltmine allows companies to fully maximize their space and adapt their portfolio to the post-COVID world. Easily manipulate and visualize workspaces virtually without having to lean on manually updated AutoCAD files every time a floor plan changes. 

Our platform further allows companies to visually simulate what areas are most commonly used. The utilization data feature can help workplace strategists, corporate real estate planners, and people ops professionals, see and track who is using what space. This assists in the placement of individual workspaces, conference rooms, and collaboration spaces, as well as what areas may need to be more frequently sanitized. 

The 3 E’s of redefining your workplace 

  • Enhance your strategy: Optimize your real estate portfolio while ensuring each workplace supports its people. Connect the dots between lease and facility management to navigate strategic decisions.
  • Evolve your workplace: Leverage your space  in unprecedented ways. Iterate on the ideal role of your workplace in a world where the rules that used to govern the office no longer apply.
  • Empower your people: Design a dynamic workplace tailored to the continuously changing needs of your workforce. Foster an engaging experience that inspires your employees.

Enjoy this blog post? Click the link below for our guide about how to build an effective hybrid workplace.

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