By Carlo Torrano
As many companies quickly found success with their employees working from home when the COVID-19 crisis hit, organizations are now reassessing their need for traditional office space. The work-from-home model provides many benefits for both the employer and employee. So, what does the physical workplace actually provide that a home office can’t?
Despite all of the available digital tools, the office environment still allows critical human connections that cannot be replicated by a video call. With space for casual, unplanned interactions and enhanced collaboration, our currently vacant workspaces are important elements of our company culture that require reevaluation at this critical juncture.
Creating A Workspace Workers Can Trust
Key to planning for the future office is creating an environment that is safe — fostering health and wellness — and a place where individuals feel comfortable and productive. Ultimately, the return to the office requires corporate leaders to make their plans thoughtfully and with empathy, as each individual employee’s experience during the pandemic is different. As we move forward, a person’s role in the company, home and family situation, individual health, and personal work style all impact the needs to be incorporated in their new work environment.
Many employees may perform some or nearly all of their “heads down” desk work remotely, concentrating office time around activities that emphasize collaboration. In this model, there may be fewer requirements for individual workstations and more emphasis on assembly space for team collaboration and occasional company gatherings. No single solution will fit all, but there are already many considerations that may prove effective:
- Reduce the overall density of desking areas; alternatively, plan for alternating schedules that allow a limited number of occupants in the space on given days.
- Increase the availability of open collaboration areas that offer alternatives to closed in conference and meeting rooms.
- Provide greater flexibility in the space to allow users to arrange/rearrange environments to align with their comfort zone, the size of the group, and the task at hand. This also allows the office to evolve more smoothly as regulations are refined over time, or as the needs of the workforce shift.
Research and testing these practices in the workplace will undoubtedly unearth even more solutions, both physical and technological, that will further enhance the productivity and attractiveness of the office experience.
Assembling Your Space Planning Team
As you consider taking over a new space or revitalizing your existing one — whether to respond to the pandemic or as future needs arise, keep in mind the following best practices to set your project up for success:
- Understand your objective for engaging in space planning. If you are not clear about your goals, project planning is likely to wander, and you will be unduly influenced by ideas that do not support underlying needs.
- Identify and engage internal stakeholders both at the executive level and staff level early in your planning.
- Establish the external project team with the right experience for your project scope — architect, interior designer, general contractor, etc.
Partnering with a project manager (PM) from the start will ensure that your organization effectively responds to each of these points. Furthermore, your PM may even be equipped to provide space planning services in-house. Early conversations with a PM will help work out details and bring to light issues that might not have previously been considered, ranging from how to plan for a move to identifying a realistic timeline.
Now more than ever, strategic partnerships will be critical to bringing about spaces that employees will embrace. Rekindling those critical human connections found in the workplace is possible with appropriate planning and the guidance of a great team.
Torrano is a licensed architect and a project manager for Bradac Co, a full-service real estate construction management firm in San Francisco. With more than a decade of experience on a variety of complex projects that serve both public and private users, his project expertise encompasses a range of project types, including tech office, hospitality, multifamily, and mixed-use with both ground up and adaptive re-use construction.
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