What Will the Future of Office Space Look Like in the Post-Pandemic Era?

After an engaging exchange of emails between REIN CEO, Patrick Francey and REIN Member Christian Szpilfogel about the future of office space, we wanted to share our thoughts and hear the REIN community’s opinions on the subject.

Forty per cent of Canadians went from working in offices to working in kitchens or other rooms in their homes. As COVID-19 restrictions lift, businesses are reassessing whether employees need to return to working in the office and if so, to what capacity. One thing is certain, though-it won’t be business as usual. 

Office spaces need to adhere to current physical distancing measures and increased cleaning protocols. This requires restructuring the layout of desks and workspaces, as well as traffic directions to ensure contact between employees is limited. Some are even implementing rules for wearing an N95 mask in the building to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and to ensure each others’ safety.

Though it might seem logical for businesses to downsize office space due to an increase in employees working remotely, that is likely not the case. With a staggered layout of workspaces to keep employees safe, a greater amount of square footage is required. Though a fifty per cent density reduction in employees working in offices sounds like a reasonable solution, it isn’t possible. Doubling the square-footage per employee would further limit the number of employees able to work in the office at any given time. Likely, employee density would need to be reduced to 30% or less to safely accommodate everyone. 

Having employees spread out in an open space may stop the spread of viruses, but it is also proving to result in decreased productivity and creativity. With a lack of privacy between colleagues, phone conversations are not confidential, and concentration is affected. Studies have also shown that placing introverts in an open office concept significantly diminishes their creativity and innovative ideas. 

Current data suggests working from home yields higher productivity: more efficient use of time, less stress from commuting, ability to attend to personal tasks as needed, etc. By eliminating an office space and freeing up costs associated with expensive leases, maintenance, and infrastructure could free up capital for technology and improving work-from-home environments for employees. Cash allowances to help employees set up their at-home working environments is one example of where money might be better spent. 

What will office spaces look like in a post-pandemic era? Perhaps square footage per employee will decrease again, making downsizing possible. Maybe companies will transition to solely working remotely. Or, perhaps many employees will prefer to continue physical distancing in the workplace, even after the pandemic resolves, in which case the use of “hot desks,” also known as “hotelling,” would be a beneficial alternative. 

There is still concern that a second wave of COVID-19 will spread across the country. This uncertainty will likely, and understandably, delay many companies’ decisions to ask staff to return to an office. The current safety measures and protocols will remain in place until a vaccine or herd immunity is achieved, which could be up to another 18 months. If that’s the case, the expense, time, money, and disruption will not only affect employees but client care and productivity in general.

A less costly and more efficient solution would be to innovate and expand on what is already in place for each company’s work-from-home environment. Setting employees up in their own homes with adequate technology and access to resources could be a better use of the money during an already financially stressful time for more businesses. 

We’d love to hear from you. What do you think? What’s your view of the world and the demand for and use of office space going forward? 

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