Sustainable greenhouse with meeting room, workspaces and coffee bar,

The office of the future: How COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of innovation

Office buildings are changing faster and more dramatically than ever before. To keep employees engaged, office spaces must do more to fulfil the requirements of their primary users. In this blog series we will examine three recent developments that are driving innovation in real estate and facilities management. The first blog will look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on offices in 2021 and the future role of the office.

The office as a clubhouse and meeting place

After the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that the new norm will become a flexible combination of working from home and working at the office. A recent study shows that 79% of the C-suite plan to let their employees split their time between corporate offices and remote working - if their job allows for it (WeWork and Workplace Intelligence, 2021).

Although the past year has shown many employees that they are able to work from anywhere, most of them seem to have a real need to physically go to the office every now and then – but often not for the same reasons as pre-COVID. The office will need to serve a much more compelling purpose than before. It has to be a hub for collaboration and social interaction that can’t be accomplished virtually. If your office place does not offer something 'extra', your employees will prefer working from home. If you want to tempt your employees back to the office regularly, you will need to create a pleasant, inspirational and optimal working environment that meets the needs that a home office cannot. It's about collaboration, connection, and socialising. The office as a clubhouse.

Gym, restaurant, beach bar

Many employers are trying to encourage workers to return to the office - at least part-time. They acknowledge that often the most important conversations do not take place during official, planned meetings. They occur by the coffee machine, in the company gym or at the bar. Working from home usually only involves planned conversations. It can also be difficult to foster creativity and innovation in online video calls. These things are more likely to result from informal meetings between colleagues who enjoy the social interaction.

Measuring real office usage

The realisation that employees may not come to the office to complete tasks that they can take care of at home brings a significant change to the office. Occupancy of workplaces and meeting rooms will decline. So, many organisations will find themselves owning or leasing buildings with unused space. This poses the question: How much space is actually needed? Matching workplace and meeting room supply and demand on a daily basis will become key, but at the same time challenging. It will require both historic and current data to show how and when office workspaces are occupied and powerful analytics to identify and predict trends.

Installing occupancy sensors is one easy way to get answers. By attaching a sensor under each desk or using people counters in open spaces you can measure how many and which type of workplaces are being used, and for how long.

Opportunity for cost savings

That data is extremely valuable for managing and planning, but also for convincing department managers - who in my experience invariably overestimate their space requirements. Reducing workplaces or moving to a flexible desk model is easier when it’s supported by hard facts.

If an average workplace in Europe costs EUR 10,000 a year, imagine how many companies could save millions by disposing of buildings or parts of buildings. That would save them a lot of money - money that can be used to upgrade their buildings to the level needed to make it attractive for people to return to the office.

The office of the 21st century

Transforming your buildings into offices of the future. Inspiring spaces, with plenty of light, plants and colour with enough room to meet and interact. Sustainable buildings - which we will talk about in another blog - rich in connected sensors to ensure an optimal working climate. Such an office does not need to be expensive. Planon’s new 'biophilic' steel-and-glass tropical greenhouse is cheaper than a white, concrete alternative.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the development of the office of the future. By measuring actual use, you can size your building according to your true occupancy needs and make your workplace an inspirational, pleasant and productive environment in which to be.

Portrait of Pierre Guelen, Planon CEO.

Pierre Guelen

Founder of Planon

Pierre Guelen, founder and former CEO of Planon, led global operations and shaped the company's strategic vision from its inception. His active role in elevating the facility management industry and highlighting the importance of real estate in business success has earned Planon numerous awards, including recognition as one of Deloitte’s Best Managed Companies. After 42 years at the helm of Planon, Pierre stepped down as CEO on 1 June 2024, but he remains actively involved in the company as a strategic advisor.

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