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Designing the Office of the Future

10June 2021

After experiencing cataclysmic changes to society during Covid—including an upending of the way many people work—employers are planning for a return and possible reset at the office. It is an uncertain time as tenants and landlords sort through what pandemic-related changes will endure and what will fall by the wayside.

Business leaders and real estate professionals are grappling with some challenging questions, micro and macro: How will we work now and in the future? And what should we as employers, tenants, and landlords do to meet the real estate needs of companies and employees?

Commercial real estate brokers serve a key role in helping businesses make decisions about the environment where they do business. After all, it’s not just about form and function; an employer’s space also serves as an important employee attraction and retention tool, says Colliers’ Vice President Adam Barrett, a tenant advisory specialist focused on downtown Minneapolis.

As business leaders consider their current and future spaces, they are weighing the best ways to welcome employees back safely and determine an appropriate size and use for their office. Barrett recommends that leaders take a measured approach. Before making any decisions, survey employees to assess their needs and wishes for office life. If planning a hybrid model, implement it for six months and then survey employees again to get additional feedback.

“People are now comfortable working from home, but is that a sustainable solution for your business and the development of your future workforce?” Barrett asks. “The last thing a leader wants to do is reduce the office’s square feet by 30 percent, only to discover one year later that their workers want to be in the office. Or worse, that competitors are attracting more talent resulting from their in-office strategy and the leader’s company has little flexibility to expand.”

“The last thing a leader wants to do is reduce the office’s square feet by 30 percent, only to discover one year later that their workers want to be in the office.”  Adam Barrett, Vice President; tenant advisory specialist focused on downtown Minneapolis for Colliers.

Adam Barrett, Vice President; tenant advisory specialist focused on downtown Minneapolis for Colliers.
Adam Barrett, Vice President; tenant advisory specialist focused on downtown Minneapolis for Colliers.

Additionally, it’s critical to bring together a team to weigh in on a host of issues, such as staffing and human resources, operations, space planning—and perhaps most importantly these days—information technology. Some considerations on the table for companies will likely include the following trends.

Prioritizing wellness
Many employees have gotten used to working in the comfort and safety of home. Business leaders must balance those workers’ current contentment with sustainable back-to-office initiatives. To ensure that staff feel safe in the office, it will be essential to offer things like hand sanitizing stations and strategies to ensure some social distancing can occur. Landlords will continue upgrading common areas to include touchless elevators with distancing protocols. Some will seek to maintain their work/life balance, making wellness features like quiet rooms, natural light, and outdoor common areas especially welcome.

Top-of-the-line technology
Thanks to platforms like Zoom, companies have operated relatively seamlessly during Covid. That likely will not change as some form of remote work will continue indefinitely. Businesses will want to make sure that their offices have excellent video conferencing and plug-and-play technology that enables employees to easily transition between home, work and their building’s common areas. Barrett says that, “Business leaders will be wise to include their chief information officers early in the real estate strategy conversations.”

Space and amenities
If there’s one thing that Covid taught us, it’s that tightly packed places aren’t optimal for health. Many offices will provide more room around workspaces, along with hoteling or flex spaces where employees work when they are on-site. For tenants that want less space, shared building conference rooms and restaurants will become an attractive way to reduce costs and entice employees to work in-person.

Creating culture
It will be challenging for businesses to impart their culture to employees as the new normal unfolds. Creating the right space is a key driver, along with technology integration, well-defined objectives, a focus on social responsibility and equity, and a commitment to environmental stewardship. These pillars will help companies create a place people want to work—and stay. 

Bottom line, office space is not disappearing. Many millennials are entering and thriving in the workforce, primed for mentoring, development, and career advancement. So don’t panic and make rash decisions, Barrett says. With introspection and the advice of impartial, knowledgeable consultants, business leaders will make solid decisions that guide their companies through the post- Covid era.

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