Corporate Office Design Changes Protect Employees

According to the Society of Human Resources, 77% of organizations in 2017 did not allow full time work from home for employees. Though current statistics are not available on the number of employees working from home, we can look at our local community. Philadelphia, and its surrounding suburbs entered the green phase of reopening a month ago, yet the large employers have not brought their staff back into the office. With the continued rise of COVID-19 cases in our country, going back to the corporate office is a moving target.

Check out our video highlighting the updates, and improvements to a suburban Philadelphia corporate building that JL Architects is working on. The property was purchased with the idea of modernizing and repositioning the building for new tenants. With COVID-19, new enhancements and ideas have also emerged.

Will We Ever Go Back to an Office Space?

When states began to shut down and businesses sent employees home, some companies determined workers did not need an office to work. Employees found enhanced freedom and new-found activities replacing commuting to result in greater productivity and satisfaction.  Yet, as endless zoom calls and online meetings continue, workers have come full circle. We realize that the satisfaction was not in working from home, it was having the flexibility to work from home or an office on different days provided the greatest satisfaction.

The bottom line is that the office is not dead. But the chances that we will return to a pre-COVID look are slim.

The New Normal

While we previously tried to maximize square-feet-per-worker, maintaining safety through social distancing in the workplace has reversed that attitude. Our office set-ups will begin to include more “elbow-room” for employees. That also means shared work spaces and hoteling desks will change. Employees now need their own sanitized spaces to prevent the spread.

Company culture and interpersonal relationships are becoming more proactive–instead of having a casual conversation while you sit next to each other, coworkers need to make an effort to engage online or in a socially distant environment.

These relationships have been buoyed by the same tools that allow workers to be productive remotely. With increased flexibility in your work location, you’ll be able to stay at home when you have a cold instead of dragging yourself into the office. The choice is no longer between missing a day or completing the task on time, it is to complete the task from home or the office.  We’ll all benefit from it.

Working from an office does not have to mean the same office. Technology that made remote working possible, makes it easier for people to work in different places on different days. That includes in-home work spaces and satellite suburban offices supporting a main office in the same market (a hub and spoke configuration).  For the workforce, this means:

  1. Fewer workers in a single location and reduced chance for cross-infection,
  2. Shorter commute times resulting in economic and time savings, stress reduction, and improved air quality
  3. Greater options for suburban locations, including amenities, walkability, connectivity

Businesses can experience increased savings from the cost of renting a smaller urban location and encouraging an increased presence in lower rent suburban areas. Hopefully, this will result in increased retention and higher employee satisfaction.

In terms of interior office space, we are continually working to reduce common touch spots like doors, faucets, and elevators. Office spaces need to install increased proximity and motion activation rather than a switch, button, or leaver. Conversations that took place at the water cooler, coffee station, and lunch table will gradually return. Those places will be cleaner due to improved ventilation, better cleaning, and antiviral and antibacterial materials.

Finally, wearing masks is normalized.  We realize that while it may be uncomfortable, wearing a mask when ill helps to maintain a healthy population.

Each day we hear someone say these are strange times–and they are!  I take comfort in the conviction that humans adapt. The hardships that we experience now are already leading to greater innovation and resilience, greater appreciation of what we have, and more awareness of our collective health and well-being.

John Lister, Principal