Is the ‘typical’ office a thing of the past?

For building owners or occupying businesses, 2020/2021 was a roller-coaster year that left an unprecedented amount of office space empty for many months. Although working from home is a challenge for many, post Covid surveys highlight home working is here to staying in some form.

The unexpected experiment in remote working surpassed expectations because of the mass adoption of collaboration technologies. It reset expectations for the future because it opened new possibilities for how much flexibility employees can have in choosing how and where to work. In fact, more than half of employees say that they would like their organisations to adopt more flexible approach to home working.

As occupiers reflect on the past year, they are trying to merge the best of the old ways of doing business with the best of what has learned during the pandemic. Many questions are swirling in the minds of office occupiers about how work should be done in new normal, how to think about retention and attraction of talent, what the role of the workplace should be, and how much space is need as businesses adapt to future change.

Despite the experience of working from home for almost two years, most businesses believe that the physical presence of workers is critical at some regular frequency. For example, moments of innovation and cross-pollination may not be happening.

Our own AMH survey evidence shows that physical space is still needed, some of the companies that have announced permanent work-from-home options are simultaneously signing major leases, pressing ahead new headquarters or a relocation.

The future will be hybrid, but the proportions of work-from-home and in-office time are far from settled. This reflection is already leading many to focus on the in-person, face-to-face “moments that matter” for collaboration, alignment, community, and so on.

Offices and Businesses are eager to see what these moments are and how frequently they occur—daily, weekly, monthly—to determine both the amount of space office tenants need and the designs and configurations that will promote the types of interactions the workplace seeks.

Much of today’s office space will not meet the needs of a business and its workers in a hybrid world. There will be an oversupply of space and a scarcity of offices purpose-built for hybrid work. Spaces, designs, experiences, amenities, leases, food-and-beverage options, and the like will have to be reimagined.

Solution Consultation with a welcoming transformation

Most business do not yet know how to navigate hybrid work. Many risk drifting into a hybrid model in which they get neither the benefit of having everyone in person nor the benefit of full flexibility. Business will have to evolve their employee and environment needs, through a consultative approach.

The most proactive business and building owners are going even further, partnering with AMH and utilising information and tools that directly address the businesses needs for physical space—for example, understanding desk and conference-room usage patterns. The aim being to deliver compelling value propositions that go beyond a mere “four walls” to solutions that create convenient experiences, measure in-space factors, and generate insights about what happens within those spaces.

Occupiers will increasingly focus on making the workplace an exciting place to be, recognizing that the next-best alternative for most employees—their homes—has turned out to be better than they had imagined. Workers need a reason to get up, get dressed, and commute.

Space should be purpose-built for hybrid work. Food-and-beverage systems, lounges, kitchens, cafeterias, all accessible, has to emerge. The experience of the workday will become more digital: ordering food and concierge services, showing that you have complied with a building’s health and safety protocols, booking rooms and workspaces, and so on will need to be as easy as a tap on a smartphone. But the need for a digital experience is about more than just apps that help owner/operators communicate with users of space; it’s about services and experiences contextually embedded within the workplace through the digital layer of office buildings.

The traditional allocation of 70% percent of space to desks and offices needs to be fundamentally challenged. People are going to return to the workplace only if the space is safe, comfortable, easy to navigate, invites collaboration, and offers a “wow” factor. Smart conference spaces, collaboration areas, and lounges (among other models) that inspire the collision of ideas and creativity will come to define the floor plate, depending on the nature of work taking place.