If the hybrid workspace is the preferred option, how should CRE redefine and redesign workspaces that will support it? Plum of AWA reckons this may depend on how a hybrid model is operated, for example where some members of a team are in the office and some not then the spaces must accommodate small groups of people, with a social distancing provision.
For Davies a design rethink presents an opportunity. “Department heads and business leaders must review how they take care of their own people and optimise their working environments accordingly to make them feel fulfilled, cared for and, in turn, productive. This will also pave the way for a strong work-life balance.
“It will take some time to figure out, and the design of certain workplaces may need constantly evolving depending on the requirements of individuals and teams. However, what we have established is that workplaces must support the social elements, the impromptu conversations, and connectivity, yet at the same time, provide a space for collaborating and focused work for those who have struggled in those areas when working remotely.”
According to Cooper, flexible spaces are a good solution in providing employees somewhere that makes them happy and inspires creativity and productivity.
“Some of the key requirements include location, facilities and amenities, price, and hygiene. There are operators that have spaces aimed at certain industries or sectors. The key is to evaluate a space based on your business needs, consider everything from the reception area to communal areas. Talk to other people already working there and ask yourself if the culture is a fit for your company.”
It is expected that the switch to a hybrid model could have an impact on leasing, with owner/occupiers looking to optimise existing office space and repurposing existing office space to meet changing needs. Carroll of JLL advises that employers who lease larger spaces will have to adopt a tailored approach to meet the demands of their business and employees in much the same way as any other business.
“Repurposing existing office space to provide employees with the flexibility they need, particularly as we move out of the pandemic, will be of utmost importance. Vast swathes of uninterrupted fixed desks will likely become a thing of the past, replaced by multifunctional work areas. Standing meetings and protective furniture such as highbacked pods and broad armchairs will also be encouraged. By optimising office space in these practical ways, larger spaces will remain attractive to occupiers who have a workforce with rapidly changing needs.”
Plum counsels it’s a matter of taking a long hard look at current business and user needs. “Offices should add value to the work being carried out but if that is to be the case, organisations must understand what people need (not what they want) to be effective.
“AWA’s stance for many years has been on maximising agility in all aspects of organisational operations. Avoiding long term commitments which act as a real brake on change if things either ramp up or slow down might be a better plan moving forward. Fixed assets are very difficult to flex when you need to, so while keeping things flexible may be more expensive in the short term, COVID has demonstrated the high cost of long leases when things change quickly.”
The use of digital technologies to help run office space will also play an important role in helping FMs manage real estate more efficiently and enhance occupier comfort and safety. Plum believes there is the actual safety to consider, as well as a feeling of safety in helping people feel reassured and comfortable.
She warns: “One bad experience will be very difficult to row back from. Trust is huge here. Do people trust the organisation to keep them safe? Are employers doing their bit to reduce hygiene anxiety?”
Being able to book a desk in advance, via an app for example, will be particularly useful in workplaces regularly working at maximum safe capacity or if one-way systems are in place.
Davies says: “Searching for a desk can waste significant amounts of time, especially if someone has already commuted some distance into the office. Where few desks are available relative to the number of people or employees have to walk around a one-way system to find a workstation, this could grow further still. Staff that have come into the office to work with colleagues will be able to coordinate through the app to find collaborative working areas.”
With JLL recently joining forces with GoSpace AI to create a dynamic occupancy planning and management offering, Carroll predicts this kind of technology will enable FMs to deliver an experience-centric workplace for occupants.
“Technology will be fundamental in empowering businesses to manage spaces effectively, all while making safety a priority. A truly integrated digital workplace that meets and adapts to the needs of the workforce is where we see the future.”