Last week I flew into Lexington Kentucky and made the scenic drive through the countryside to Jasper, Indiana. Jasper is the surprising center of one of the largest commercial furniture manufacturers in the USA, Kimball (www.Kimball.com). They had just completed a renovation of their space and consolidated operations last year when the pandemic sent everyone home. As we arrived, we were the first tour welcomed back, and they had just completed their staged return-to-office of their corporate workforce. I wondered if the post-quarantine office space would function like the pre-COVID office. What I learned was a resounding – mostly!
When we walked through, we were eagerly greeted by happy employees who shared their stories of work-from-home and return-to-office. Everyone was happy to be back in the collaborative and social environment that a well-designed office provides. We have all learned that online / remote work can be done effectively, but it doesn’t quite replicate the in-person engagement and collaboration that happens in the office.
I wonder why the buzzwords around right now are “return to work.” For some industries, that’s applicable if positions were cut and jobs lost. But for the vast majority of office workers, we really haven’t ever stopped working; it just took on a new reality with work-from-home or flexible work schedules. So really, for quite a few, the buzzwords now are “return to office.”
More and more companies are returning workforce to their offices. Some, like PEG, have had teams back in person for some time. It seems that the end-of-the-world mentality toward office post-quarantine era isn’t likely to come true, but if we’ve learned anything from the past year, we’ve learned that so much changes so quickly.
A few predictions on the return to office:
- Physical offices will embrace technology in a bigger way as companies provide for both in-person and flexible remote policies. The Zoom meeting is here to stay on some level, so design will meet the growing need to collaborate both in person and electronically.
- Economic reality of space and functionality will drive density. There is a certain sentiment around that we’ll see more spacing of workstations. Likely those desks will stay in close proximity, but office design will incorporate more open spaces that provide opportunity for workers to get away from their desks. Without increasing office space, we can provide opportunity to spread out by leaving our desks and gaining interaction.
- Health and wellness will be a central feature to office life. We’ll bring the outdoors in through smart design, plants, walking paths, and break areas. Put that together with outdoor spaces (even if common to the building), and the new office experience can drive employee satisfaction.
So, will the office come back? Really, it never left. We left it. But, we’re returning, and office spaces will adapt to the new normal that embraces technology and provides collaboration and social interaction while calming workers with safety and design. We believe in this so much that we’re moving forward with a new office building (www.freedomcommonsprovo.com) and relocating our corporate offices in the coming year. PEG’s new offices will incorporate all of the above so that we can continue to work in the best environment and provide the best service possible.