Companies rethink what workspace will mean for employees after pandemic

The concept of the traditional workspace will never be the same, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses that have struggled through forced office closures, an uncertain economy, and layoffs now must consider what their office will look like in the future.

As the coronavirus started to spread quickly around the globe earlier this year, most businesses adapted to office closures by helping employees continue to be productive while working from home.

Some businesses began allowing employees to return to the office as COVID-19 activity slowed in the summer, while others kept workers at home to do their jobs. As virus infections, hospitalizations and deaths continued to surge later in 2020, businesses once again had to shift to more flexible work arrangements.

The uncertainty is expected to continue long into 2021, according to industry experts like Paul Daneshrad, the CEO and founder of StarPoint Properties, a California-based real estate investment firm. The virus has forced change on businesses and the commercial real estate market, Daneshrad and others have said.

Even as public health conditions are expected to improve, the way business is conducted is not likely to return to pre-pandemic norms.

Some businesses are considering getting out of their current workspace entirely, either by selling buildings that previously posed a hefty expense or ending leases. The idea is to move into a new, less expensive, more flexible space for employees.

Not all work can be done from home, so don’t expect to see the idea of owned or leased office space completely eliminated. But businesses are rethinking how they create safe and productive work areas for employees.

That means everything from how workers enter the office building, to where they sit and how they interact. Businesses will rethink the technology they use, a key part of their future strategy in this new office concept.

The new office concept likely will continue to evolve even as the health impact of the virus subsides. This new office is likely to include opportunities for continued social distancing and other protections to keep workers safe. Some businesses will be looking to expand their office space, converting into larger work areas for employees returning to work. And some may even look to create outdoor work areas that give employees more options to avoid possible exposure to an illness.

The change in workspace from COVID-19 also is expected to affect owners of flexible office space in the coming year, according to the Wall Street Journal. In a September survey, 86% of office users told CBRE Group Inc. that flexible office space will play a role in their long-term real-estate strategy, up from 73% in June. Meanwhile, more landlords facing competition from WeWork and its peers, are starting to offer short-term deals to fill vacant space, the Journal reported.

As businesses adapt to a new way of operating, the likely result will be a blended model, at least in the short-term, that allows for the easy transition from office work to remote work. Workers will continue to need opportunities to collaborate, ensuring the need for some type of gathering space at an office, even if it’s smaller than before. So companies that embrace more flexible work arrangements likely will experience the most success, including allowing some of their employees to work from a cafe or other offsite location.

The pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of modern life, and that includes the ways businesses operate. The coming year will show how well companies have adapted to these changes.

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