Much has been written about how the workplace will change post-pandemic. And we find ourselves asking more questions in an increasingly perplexing world:
Will everyone start to work from home?
Will we see some sort of hybrid work from home model take hold?
Will six-foot social distancing be marked by patterns in flooring materials?
Will screens and dividers start showing up everywhere?
Will communal spaces disappear?
Do all of these questions lead us to a future where we concede that “the office is dead!”?
I read an article today that challenges that thinking. It detailed how corporate America is reevaluating work from home. The article suggests that the work from home format may be less effective and shared why some employers are now trying to bring their staff back to the office full-time! The pendulum will swing several more times before we’re done with the pandemic, but 6-months into it, can we really know what the future of the office will be? Should we make seismic/expensive decisions now, when everything is…Jell-O?
Our team did a great job jumping into a work from home cadence and adjusting to the new format. When we were told workplaces could open, we perfected our plan, cleaned and disinfected extensively to welcome everyone back. We worked alternate-day schedules, so we were socially distanced and were flexible when some chose to work from home full-time. We were ready and excited to get back to “normal,” but we soon discovered that returning to work in this new way was not the same—our full team was not there. We felt incomplete.
We wanted to continue our “Thirsty Thursday” Zoom happy hours. Then as time went on, we noticed that those who did come in were more social, there was a feeling of comfort in one another’s company, even if we were heads-down working. We made a point of joining in conversations, collaborating more. We were grateful that those who preferred silence retreated to empty conference rooms because the rest of us were going to interact, no matter what!
The pandemic has changed the office, but the office is not dead. During this transition, our behavior illustrates that an office is not the workstations that house employees, but the people themselves.
This is not a new concept; now, we are just more aware. We may be productive at home and communicate via Zoom, but the soul of an office is found in its people: the eye contact, the chance conversation, the “learn by listening” that cannot be replicated when we work remotely. Zoom is great for information exchange, but it does not accommodate collaborative creativity well. And because of our basic need to connect, the office will live on, perhaps in a different context based on what we’ve learned.
There is a lot of good research going into the “future of the office,” we should focus on this information as we plan ahead. For clients, we advise that this is not a time to make big, expensive decisions about existing space, because things will change. And for those who have to make moves now, build in flexibility to accommodate change. This is a transition time, and by observing behavior and following real data, we can learn a lot about the future of the workplace.
Naaz Alikhan, CID, LEED AP
Principal, Interior Design