by Janet Morra
Planning a return to the physical office under ever-changing conditions and advisories from the CDC is yet one more challenge for C-suite executives, facility managers, and employees.
The numbers are significant. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of July 2021, there were 153.6 million people age 16 and over in America’s workforce, of which 82.2 million were office based. Of those, 13.2% of full-time workers in all industries engaged in remote work. Although this is down from a high of 35.4% in May 2020, it nevertheless represents more than 10 million workers. That’s a lot of square footage, furniture, equipment, and associated costs to consider.
Long a staple in certain high-tech industries and made possible through advancements in digital technology, COVID-19 has pushed the hybrid work environment model to the mainstream. Now, as the world grapples with increased outbreaks caused by the delta variant and new facts about its transmissibility to and by the vaccinated, Margulies Perruzzi’s just-released “Workplace Strategy Report: Embracing the Hybrid Workspace” affirms the logic of transitioning from a traditional to hybrid model. The company’s survey of 8,600 people across multiple business sectors revealed that 44% of workers plan on being in the office three days a week, and 25% plan on two days. Only 9% responded that they would return to a pre-pandemic office presence.
The physical office should be an asset to support the needs of employees when they’re in the office, and flexibility in the design is key to accommodating the fluctuation of remote workers. In response, proactive corporate leaders are adopting sequential steps for creating a practical, sustainable strategy for their companies, the first one being the creation of a framework that identifies employee type profiles and their correlative space needs. Margulies Peruzzi dubbed these personas with names that hint at their requirements: the Anchor, the Collaborator, the True Hybrid, the Wanderer, and the Individual.
Once the framework has been established, the next steps are to:
- Determine corporate willingness to change and how to build consensus around change.
- Set guidelines for remote work and HR policies.
- Confirm the financial implications.
- Introduce property technology to manage space utilization on an ongoing basis.
- Develop architectural, design, and engineering principles.
- Form an implementation plan.
Corporate leaders are becoming more receptive to the idea that work environments must embrace change as a constant and evolve in response. Catalysts include an increase in workplace utilization rates and safety protocols; restoration of employee engagement and culture; continuation of remote work and subsequent management of a reduced in-person population; and an increased need for collaboration technology and training.
The physical manifestation of these influences has ranged from familiar, early pandemic DIY quick fixes (Plexiglas, hand sanitizer, furniture spacing or removal, etc.) to long-term planning for the expense of new construction and furniture and the redesign, repurposing, and reassignment of office space.
There are many different options available for implementing a safe return to the office, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The most successful will be one that is uniquely tailored to your company’s business model, strategic plan, and corporate culture. Ultimately, flexibility of both thought and design are the keys to cultivating a successful hybrid work environment.
Janet Morra, AIA, LEED AP is a principal and partner at Margulies Perruzzi.