As people cautiously tiptoe back to the office, some consensus is beginning to emerge about what the new workplace should look like.
Free stall farms are out, huddle rooms and telephone booths are in.
Property owners struggle to balance the space consolidation opportunities that remote working offers and the need to remain sensitive to the employee experience during a period of unprecedented churn.
“It’s the wild west now,” said Brad Golden, Customer Success Manager at VergeSense, which develops technology to help business leaders understand how the workplace is being used. “Many companies have return policies, but have no idea how many people are returning and how the space will be used.”
One of the tricky variables is that people have different reasons for returning, Golden said. “Some people want to come to the office for collaboration, social contact and a sense of belonging, while others want some sort of boundary from home,” he said.
“The function of the office needs to be looked at differently.”
VergeSense technology helps business leaders and building owners understand the use and occupancy of buildings, floors, seating areas, conference rooms and individual desks to continuously tinker with layouts and amenities to meet employee needs.
The company has seen great interest in ‘phone booths’, which are movable, enclosed rooms designed for single occupancy and which provide a sense of privacy even in the middle of large spaces.
Businesses are also adopting “neighborhoods,” which are versatile workspaces with booths, nooks, meeting rooms, and seating areas designed to encourage collaboration.
“Employee experience is just as important to overall business performance as consolidating real estate space,” says Golden. “Good design impacts the employee experience.”
Interest in coworking is increasing
In many cases, the office people return to is not the office they left two years ago.
Interest in coworking facilities, which provide rented office space to individuals or small groups, has grown dramatically over the past two years. As a result, the number of facilities is expected to double from 20,000 in 2020 to 40,000 in 2024, according to Coworking Resources.
“We felt that coworking was the wave of the future in 2019, but we thought it would probably take seven or eight years,” said Michael White, president of Venture X, which operates approximately 50 coworking locations worldwide. “We are now where we thought we would be in five years.”
The occupancy rate of each of Venture X’s 50 facilities exceeds capacity, and rental lengths are also increasing, with many companies signing up for 12- or 24-month commitments, White said.
The trend is happening everywhere.
“Some countries are further ahead than us; England embraced this model a year earlier than us,” he said.
He said one of the driving forces behind the trend is the quest for shorter travel times.
“In the past, people in suburban markets were willing to drive 20 to 25 minutes to work. Now it’s 10 to 15 minutes,” White said.
As tenant profiles have shifted from being primarily entrepreneurs to a growing number of corporate satellite offices, Venture X has invested in expansive meeting rooms and technology to support large meetings. “In 2019, nobody paid much attention to that,” he said.
Awareness in the workplace
Whatever the new normal office looks like, mobile apps will definitely be a part of it.
Schneider Electric, which makes a wide range of environmental control products, used lessons learned from the pandemic to develop an app that integrates construction data into a health and safety dashboard for workers. Built on Modo Labs’ low-code platform, the EcoStruxure Engage app sends alerts when capacity thresholds are exceeded and provides guided parking instructions, individual comfort controls, dining options, and in-app communications.
Okta, a cloud identity management company, also used Modo Labs’ toolset to build Atmosphere, a “digital concierge” app for its return to the office, and released it as a free download.
Users can use it to book meeting rooms, locate amenities, reserve smart lockers, and report workplace issues, while getting real-time updates on events and colleagues.
Wayleadr addresses the frustration of looking for a parking space, a task that costs the average suburban car owner 17 hours a year and 107 hours for New York City residents.
The software enables companies to optimize parking utilization by predicting occupancy, reserving spaces and freeing up allocated parking spaces when people are out of the office.
The startup claims it can improve parking lot efficiency by 40% while virtually eliminating one of the most aggravating parts of many people’s commutes.
All of this shows that as painful as the past two years have been, something good comes out of the experience.
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.