Sell for More Trivia is a weekly blog series that playfully presents a trivia question about commercial real estate.
Your office will likely survive the so-called pandemic. Your desk may not.
As the coronavirus upends work, a number of employers say corporate spaces should exist largely for team-based projects.
Companies in industries as varied as technology and financial services are now drawing up plans to rip out individual desks and renovate offices to include floors of meeting rooms and lounges, with workers directed to do their own work at home.
The change is an acknowledgment that, even once safety measures subside, the pandemic is likely to spur a broader restructuring of offices and the ways in which people do their jobs.
Dropbox, for example, believes this will be a permanent shift.
Dropbox is among a small but growing group of employers embracing the deskless trend. The company told staffers that it will declare its offices essentially off limits to individual work…transforming them into space for meetings and collaboration among teams.
Some employees may come to an office once a week for a day of meetings…others may visit once a quarter. Those who insist on a desk outside of home can use a company stipend for membership at a co-working space like WeWork.
The company could reduce its real-estate footprint, saving costs.
Plenty of companies are still assessing the future of offices. Multiple surveys have shown that employees value the flexibility and focus that comes with working at home, though many executives also feel in-person conversations are necessary for setting goals, hammering out problems or discussing new ideas and products.
The Hybrid Approach
Adopting a hybrid approach, in which employees can work from their office desks or stay home as they please also has limitations.
Dropbox says it studied that possibility and felt it created a recipe for unpredictability and offices that would most likely often resemble “ghost towns.” This is one reason the company is emphasizing that spaces should only be used for planned group meetings.
Losing a desk, though, can still take some adjustment. Desks often serve as a dedicated place to work and sitting next to someone day after day can deepen relationships and workplace bonds.
Continuation of an existing trend
White-collar workers have been losing space for decades. Private offices that once lined floors ultimately gave way to cubicles, popularized in the 1960s, which later morphed into open-office designs and rows of workers spread across a floor.
In recent years, a number of consulting companies and others with large populations of traveling employees have moved to hoteling or “hot desk” models, in which workers store goods in company lockers and reserve an open, unassigned desk, when needed.
The pandemic has only accelerated such trends. In the pre-Covid era, cloud-software provider VMware dedicated about 70% of square footage to desks and individual work areas, with 30% of its space consisting of meeting and gathering places. That will flip in the future. The company will renovate spaces so that 50% to 70% of an office will be dedicated to shared spaces in what it calls its “collaboration centric design.”
VMware says it foresees offices serving roles as hubs…a place for managers to convene teams and hold events. The company also eyes some cost savings. VMware will be able to shrink its real-estate footprint.
Challenges lie ahead
A deskless future will bring challenges. In addition to the cost and hassle of setting up home offices, employees will need to decide when it makes the most sense to get face time with colleagues or superiors.
Some industries, like those focused on developing new physical products, have already found it all but impossible to work remotely.
Beyond that, employers embracing a remote work culture say companies and managers will need to learn to be more flexible with employees, realizing that work and life interruptions will remain, as they have throughout the pandemic.
A number of companies predict a blended approach. At Signifyd, a fast-growing financial technology firm based near San Francisco, the company will likely continue to maintain desks in offices for employees who need a dedicated workspace outside the home, but will also allow greater flexibility for those working remotely. The company worries that if it restricts use of its offices, some workers will suffer.
Some companies are even urging staff to reconsider how they describe working spaces. Vidyard, a video platform for businesses, no longer calls its buildings offices…they are now “collaboration centers.” Staffers mostly do their work at home; its physical spaces have been reconfigured for groups to sit in “pods” and have conversations. While the company still has some individual desks in its office, it doesn’t expect many employees to use them.
It also expects the company will be able to shrink some of its real estate and get together for social gatherings at a bar or restaurant.
“The way we work will never go back,” says Vidyard.
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About Beau Beach, MBA CCIM
Beau is a tenacious Commercial Real Estate Broker, entrepreneur and adoring father of four. His clients appreciate his no-nonsense demeanor and his legendary work ethic.
Beau leads Beachwood which is a commercial real estate broker for sellers in the Nashville, Milwaukee and Florida markets.
He’s earned the revered “CCIM” designation which is awarded to the top 6% of all commercial real estate brokers.
He’s the author of the books The 3 Reasons: Why Most Commercial Properties Don’t Sell and True Wealth: What Every Seller Should Know About 1031 Exchanges.
Beau can be reached at 800-721-3287, click to schedule a call or Beau@BeachwoodSells.com