Two years ago, no one knew that we were only a few months away from one of the biggest disruptions to the way we live and work. But shortly after the pandemic hit, people started to exercise one of their biggest strengths. We started to adapt. And think about the ways how to live our lives safely and keep the economy going. Which meant, in the case of airborne disease, finding new ways how to collaborate even when apart.
Now we are slowly emerging into something that may resemble the old. But the extreme amount of innovations we have experienced in the last two years and the virus that is still circulating, most likely mean that we are moving towards something new. And if we take it from the right angle, it can be truly exciting. After all, the 5 positive predictions we have made are all becoming true. Let’s reflect on the past and examine how the workplace looks like now when we are slowly emerging out of this pandemic into a new world. What is Office 2.0?
The city exodus is not happening
When companies made their employees remote, many workers reassessed their living situation. For some of them, who lived in the city mainly because of shorter commute, staying in the city stopped making sense. They gladly missed the city vibes and culture in exchange for a bigger and quieter place with an access to nature. Which made a lot of sense during the worst days of the pandemic, when the city was shut down. We have seen the trend of people leaving the city in rising house prices across the country.
The cost of a city apartment fell during the pandemic, but it is now back to pre-pandemic levels. And the prognosis of some, who predicted the end of an urban era were not fulfilled. The data showed that more people actually left city for another city than people left city for suburban or rural areas. Samuel Kling, the Fellow & Director of Global Research on the Chicago Council of Global Affairs has more data that plays in favour of cities. He found that 70% of people living in the city centre want to stay there. And only 8% of them would want to live in suburbs.
Those who, during the beginning of the hybrid workplace era, remained loyal to the city ended up spending more time in their community. As a result, people now want more from their city than to be just a place to sleep or work. This is where the concept of a 15-minute city gains its strength. Accessibility, health and cutting down on emissions – all mean that people don’t want to travel distances to accomplish their daily necessities anymore. So, the cities that want to stay relevant and attractive to the workforce must keep pace with the transition to the new normal and innovate at a reasonable pace.
The office remains important
In May 2021, a Mercer study found that 70% of companies want to adopt the hybrid model. Which suggests that we are unlikely to be coming back to the “full time in the office” model. It is great news from many aspects. Employees now have more flexibility being able to better manage their work/life balance. And less commuting means more time on hand with less pollution. Employers save on office space and equipment while choosing flexible spaces solutions for their local hubs.
Early this year, we predicted that instead of the fall of the office, our workplaces would change dramatically. And that’s exactly what’s happening. Companies are beginning to accept lease offers from flexible space operators who have managed to creatively transform unused buildings into local office hubs. This is good news for employees living in suburban or rural areas as they can brainstorm and work at the office more conveniently. These hubs feature lightweight and versatile furniture that can be moved or stored with minimum effort. Such as stackable chairs or typical furniture and desks that can be easily disassembled thanks to innovation in furniture fittings. Like Würk Snap-In technology, which offers convenient tool-free assembly.
But the company offices are not going anywhere. We can see this in the latest purchases of big tech companies. Google bought its current leased space of St. John’s Terminal Building in Manhattan for more than a billion dollars. And TikTok signed a lease in Times Square NYC.
Office interiors are redesigned to allow flexible work and attract talent
Due to the fact that many employees work remotely, great emphasis is placed on the IT infrastructure, which enables seamless collaboration. The experience of working together is getting closer to being in the same room with a colleague. Dynamic autofocus cameras that follow the speaker, ambient noise-cancelling microphones and large vivid screens all making videoconferencing more enjoyable and immersive than ever before. In the not-so-distant past, the person joining a meeting remotely was in many cases left behind thanks to the challenges and obstacles posed by technology. With new and improved technology in offices and at home, the remote employee can be a truly equal part of the meeting.
The nature of work employees perform onsite has changed. Nowadays, you most likely go to the office to collaborate or take advantage of the advanced tools that offices offer. This drives a shift away from permanently assigned workspaces. Instead, the offices are beginning to feature mixed spaces with meeting tables and casual seating. Every day, an employee chooses a workstation based on the scope of work. Whether it’s working with documents, performing creative tasks, video conferencing or working within a team.
Realizing how vulnerable we are to diseases by experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic firsthand, many people are changing the way how they think about health and wellbeing. Not only working and living in a clean and healthy environment became the priority, but also making the most of each day. The threat of airborne disease made us create and utilize outdoor areas that not only reduce the spread of viruses but also provide fresh air and access to direct sunlight.
Plants are a cost-effective way how to visually enhance space. But not only that, as we mentioned in our blog post, they also improve acoustics and contribute to better air quality including extraction of carbon dioxide. No wonder that the green office has become a sort of a sign that a company puts the wellbeing of employees and the whole planet at the forefront.
Touchless technology not only speed things up (if correctly implemented), but it also makes us safer without having to touch the same spot that dozens of people have touched before. And we can see it booming everywhere. You can now unlock the door to your office using an app or waive at the sensor to open the washroom door. Other types of sensors help to monitor room occupancy or regulate air quality.
Overworking is a real threat to our mental health. And this is especially true for those who work from home. A survey from ADP Canada found that wfh employees worked more hours than when they were physically onsite. Current studies suggest that the “5-day week” format is not suitable anymore for a modern way of work. In fact, Microsoft Japan just conducted its 4-day workweek test with surprising results. Employees that worked four days a week instead of five for a month were 40% more productive. Does this mean that we can soon expect to work a day less? That may not seem like a distant reality, as some companies are already implementing this model in Ontario.
The need for a dedicated space at home
As many people will continue to work, at least partially, from home, there will be a continuity in need of home improvements, which skyrocketed during the past two years. Driven by employees who want to have a similar experience at home as working in the office. Remote employees also want to have access to the same tools to stay no less productive. With the desire to separate work from home, remote workers want to continue working in an area that is dedicated for work so that the work does not interfere with their personal lives and vice versa. Remote workers want to have at least the same support and comfort when working at home as in the office. That’s why standing desks and ergonomic office chairs have led the charts for home office purchases. And this trend is likely continue.
History teaches us that a crisis can herald great positive change. The pandemic has certainly made some of us step back and rethink how we live and work. And hopefully, this means that the emphasis on our health, wellbeing and better working conditions will continue. Nothing suggests otherwise.