March 18, 2021Philadelphia Business Journal:
Business leaders are at an inflection point. After the pandemic upended the way weworked in 2020, the best companies are working now to assess lessons learned andactively shape better workforce strategies. Instead of returning to business as usual,business leaders are taking advantage of this extraordinary opportunity to emerge better–creating workplaces that are healthier and more productive than ever before. How canleaders shape their future?
The first step is to assess what changes will last and what will not, then design andexecute workplace strategy accordingly.
What won’t last?
• 100% remote work
Exclusively working from home is not a long-term solution. According to real estateadvisory firm JLL’s “Reimagining Human Experience,” approximately 67% of employeesfavor a hybrid work solution (part office, part remote), 24% want to work exclusively atthe office, and 9% want to work exclusively from home. So the office will survive thepandemic as an essential destination.
• Fear of the workplace and public transit
Demographic data show that millennial and GenZ employees (75% of the workforce) wantto work in the office and they prioritize sustainability, so when the pandemic subsides,they will seek to return to the vitality of the workplace and opportunities to use publictransit to get there.
• Overreliance on virtual communication platforms
Employees crave human connection and relationships. Studies show virtual meetings caninterfere with key elements of human interaction, ultimately eroding relationships andtrust.
What’s here to stay?
• Employees’ desire for flexibility
Employees embraced the absence of a commute during the pandemic and channeledthe time into more work hours, family time, exercise, or contributions to a better work-lifebalance.
• Workplace health and safety
Offices are becoming healthier with increased ventilation, high-capacity filters to captureairborne pathogens, particles, and pollutants, improved cleaning products andprotocols, touchless fixtures and security, and more expansive wellness policies andprotocols.
• Digital innovation
Rapid development and adoptio n of digital technologies enabled companies and peopleto work in amazing new ways. But even as organizations leverage digital innovations tocollaborate, communicate, and serve their customers, great companies will preserve theessential human interaction that strengthens healthy connections and cultures.
• Focus on talent and culture
During the pandemic disruption, the need for human connection, reassurance, andauthenticity became apparent. The best leaders turned their attention to creating a newlevel of “being human” across their organizations, strengthening relationships, loyalty,and business performance.
The next great workplace is built on three innovations
Successful companies will establish policies that allow some flexibility in work locationand hours while ensuring business continuity and productivity. This flexibility will requirenew workforce strategies that secure opportunities for collaboration, innovation,learning, and relationship building. Leaders may consider moving or establishing officesthat are close to talent and transit, based on millennial and GenZ preferences forsustainable lifestyles. Well-located companies will ultimately be the winners of the talentwar.
Workplaces will leverage the lessons from the pandemic to support the physical andmental health of their employees, delivering lasting changes in performance andengagement. Improvements in HVAC systems, cleaning protocols, and sick leave policieswill make workplaces significantly healthier. Workspaces will support employee wellbeingwith natural light, views, green space, water features, and amenities that encouragephysical movement, such as walking trails, bike paths, and walkable neighborhoods.These will be essential workplace elements that reduce stress and improveconcentration, creativity, cognition, collaboration, well-being, satisfaction, andproductivity. And they are features that attract, retain, and engage the today’s bestprofessional talent.
• Workplace design
The post-pandemic workplace will a reverse of the trend toward “densification,” increase the number of square feet per employee, and build up access to inviting and inspiring common spaces. The new workplace may have fewer employees in the office due to flexible work policies, but they will need more space in which to spread out. Cubicles will be larger, benching more disperse. More collaboration and social space will accommodate the teamwork and relationship-building that the office is designed for. Spaces for individual quiet work, or “third spaces,” will be designed to let employees escape the distractions of the office without leaving the workplace. Outdoor spaces will no longer be an afterthought, but designed to support meetings, social gatherings, or individual work in outdoor rooms, pods, patios, or terraces.CEOs should take this extraordinary opportunity to push leadership teams to reimagine workplaces that make their businesses better. They should actively engage leadership teams, including operations, HR, IT, and facilities leaders, along with space planners, technology consultants, and real estate professionals, to envision and create the new workplaces where their businesses will not just reopen, but thrive. And the time is now.
Doug Fleit is co-founder & CEO of American Real Estate Partners (AREP) in McLean, Virginia. Donald Pulver is president of Oliver Tyrone Pulver Corp. in Conshohocken.