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Shifts in Office Space Design Trends as Organizations Develop Return to Office Strategies

May 17, 2021

At the start of the pandemic, offices across most business sectors closed due to stay-at-home orders and, for the most part, the workforce was able to make the transition quite well and continue to conduct business through the use of video conferencing and remote-access tools.

Then, as companies began welcoming employees back to the office, we saw temporary solutions to make current spaces safe including physical distancing of employees, increased cleaning schedules, and installation of high-efficiency air filters.

Now, as vaccinations increase and occupancy levels increase, we will likely see more permanent solutions in design and space needs for offices.

Changes in Density and Hybrid Work Environments

While there will be an uptick in the remote workforce, many organizations will want to protect their collaborative environments which will require significant design changes. There are only so many employees that can fit in spaces when they have to be six feet apart. At the very least, the post-pandemic office will require much more space per worker and more video conferencing capabilities to allow for a blended home and office workforce.

In addition to panels between workstations and dividers at conference room tables, all common areas such as lobbies, conference rooms, and reception areas are being modified to allow for distancing while moving around the space and while collaborating in-person.

Smart Materials, Emphasis on Air Quality, and Zero Touch Solutions

Companies are developing new ways to minimize the risk from shared surfaces. Currently, manufacturers are finding ways of integrating antimicrobial technologies into their products to help reduce the spread of germs. With the development of coatings on handles and faucets to self-disinfecting properties for flooring, companies can look to update these fixtures to help reduce the spread of bacteria.  As we shift into a new dynamic for commercial spacing, antimicrobial technologies will reach new levels and answer demands that will bring new innovations in years to come.

Other safety measures that will likely become standard include changes to hospital-quality HVAC systems, ultraviolet light filtration for cleaning, and thermal scanners in lobbies. For the time being, many landlords are using mechanical systems to ensure high-quality air filtration, or installing new filters to push air quality to higher levels. Another option is providing free-standing filters around the office place. Zero-touch solutions will require retrofitting, and that will keep contractors busy for the foreseeable future.

Bathrooms are being retrofitted with touchless fixtures and dispensers if they didn’t have them before. Watch for additional hands-free measures, including foot pedals to open doors and voice-activation technology to eliminate the need to touch elevator buttons and door hardware.

Focus on Creating Spaces That Employees Want to Return to

Creating an office in which employees feel safe and healthy must be the utmost priority in creating an environment where employees want to return to the office. Adding hospitality-focused amenities could help increase employee appeal to return, but again technology and cleanliness must be part of the consideration. Creating areas such as work-free zones could increase overall employee happiness as employees have a place to de-stress away from their office desk.

Moving Toward a New Normal  

Any way you look at it, a full return to the workplace will require significant changes to ensure a safe yet collaborative environment. Property management, space design, construction, appraisal and analytics will become increasingly important elements as companies look to establish a new normal.

While many of these changes will take time, real estate developers will turn to smart technology to meet the needs of their tenants. These changes will add costs and consideration should be given to them early on to understand their full financial impact.

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Eric Olsen

Eric Olsen is a Partner in the Private Client Services Group and is responsible for the planning, supervision and execution of the tax returns, in addition to maintaining client relationships and monitoring project deadlines.

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