The office environment has seen a massive shift since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more workers taking on a remote setting. According to a recent report from InnerSpace, this transition in the way people work has led to the implementation of innovative technology in the workplace as well as a complete overhaul in how companies are choosing to utilize office space.
“Our work habits, from commuting to an office and plugging away for 50 hours a week, are gone,” Alan Nicholas, CEO of Vada Digital and InnerSpace partner, said in the report. “The pandemic lasted long enough to make a permanent impact on our working life. It will be very difficult to go back to the way it was.”
The report, titled “Future of the Workplace,” shows that the shift to remote work is a unique combination of timing, circumstance and advancing technologies. While technology has had a massive role in the workplace for many years, the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many companies to become increasingly reliant on new technologies as a means to keep teams connected. For instance, the report showed that Microsoft Teams has seen more than 75 million daily users throughout 2020, while Slack saw 12 million.
However, the shift to collaborative technology and remote work has not taken the value away from commercial office space. According to the report, the move to more collaborative forms of technology will also support companies as they transition back into the office. Overall companies are likely to begin utilizing tools that create an easy experience for employees and enable more productivity. For example, companies are likely to begin using concierge servicing platforms to help employees find answers to common concerns; booking systems for reserving various resources and rooms; and employee experience apps to ensure workers are getting the most out of each day.
Additionally, companies are beginning to value more amenity-rich properties. According to the report, office properties can attract tenants by being more than just a place to come and work. Offices now need to serve specific functions for employees. Already, in the fourth quarter of 2020, nearly three quarters of new corporate leases in Manhattan leases were for high-amenity spaces.
“Pre-pandemic, organizations sought ways to maximize expensive real estate largely by minimizing the amount of space per employee. Cubicles were exchanged for open concept furniture. And while most companies remained largely focused on assigned seating, hot desking/hotelling and desk reservation systems emerged. All in, companies recognized their offices weren’t optimized and, with rising real estate costs, they looked at new designs and processes to maximize their investments,” the report states.
For instance, companies like Microsoft have begun using collaborative amenity spaces at their campuses, including lounge areas and meeting spaces. The company has also implemented quiet zones and “hotelling,” which moves employees away from traditionally assigned desks to shared spaces as a way to increase efficiency. AirBnB is also utilizing alternative spaces, such as team hubs and “duck-in spaces” for privacy. The report shows Deloitte, Ernst & Young and American Express also have begun utilizing the practice of hotelling to increase efficiency.
Additionally, more companies are turning to flex space operators, ultimately saving money and only occupying the space a particular company needs. According to InnerSpace, flex leasing can ultimately cut down on overall spending because only occupied space needs to be paid for. In traditional office leases, a company must pay the full square footage even if only a portion is being utilized. Companies can also utilize coworking spaces near employee’s homes as opposed to traditional office spaces in city centers. This method also provides flexible leasing opportunities and further provides employees nearby amenities without the commute time.
“In this landscape, and because of the changing nature of work, businesses must take a hard look at what utilization means to them – and what their unique purpose is – in terms of the space they occupy,” David Cairns, InnerSpace partner and senior vice president of office leasing at CBRE states in the report. “Whether operating a large campus, full towers or multi-office sites, square footage needs may be lower than pre-COVID. As companies drive toward purpose-built spaces for collaboration and team building, flexible real estate strategies are a prime consideration.”