Companies trying to create the future of office space have their hands tied until a coronavirus vaccine is found and a better view of what the world looks like post-pandemic emerges.
Still, office experts predict a changed landscape for employees no matter what happens with the virus.
The biggest transitions will evolve naturally from office buildings having to compete with work-from-home benefits — namely easy access to food, quiet workspaces and the ability to walk in a nearby park or green environment midday for rest and rejuvenation. “I think we were very much heading in the direction of wellness and healthier building design and operations prior to COVID,” Hall Group Director of Leasing Kim Butler said on Bisnow’s Aug. 18 webinar, “Mind over Matter: The Psychology of Building Design and Wellness.”
Having millions of Americans work from home at once simply accelerated this shift, Butler said. She’s already seeing employees return to work with a mindset that they want the best elements of working from home in the office. The younger workforce is used to having plenty of food options nearby or downstairs, so office environments are likely to become a greater mix of offering friendly hospitality solutions with comfortable locations for employees to converse and collaborate without returning to the loud open workspaces that dominated much of the workspace prior to the pandemic. “I have seen a tremendous difference being back in the office at Hall Park,” Butler said. “I have never seen so many people out walking. I think that [carries] over from shelter-in-place and work from home. I think a lot of people are bringing those types of habits that they learned and liked about improving their workday to the office environment or the workspace environment.”
Green spaces have always had a lure in office environments, but they are likely to become sacrosanct post-coronavirus, Butler said. Perkins and Will Associate Principal and architect Mary Dickinson said architects will be asked to better connect the exterior and interior spaces of an office environment, so both areas flow seamlessly for guests and tenants. This includes everything from terraces to balconies and walking trails, she said. “The challenge for designers is how to make it so [the space] is hospitable and comfortable,” Dickinson said. On one hand, the space needs to be outside, but it also has to be cool on hot days and warm on cold days.
Even if these designs present more development challenges and spatial considerations, they are slowly becoming less of an amenity and more of a central wellness solution. “With wellness becoming more a part of the conversation and an expectation [within] workplaces, it has become more of a norm for us to have [indoor-outdoor] space as part of our design as opposed to it not being incorporated or not solving for it and including it,” Dickinson said.