RALEIGH – In a post-pandemic world, can we expect to see smaller offices with closed-off workspaces and sanitation stations? Is the creative, collaborative office a thing of the past? The answer may surprise you.

WRAL TechWire recently chatted with Nakira Carter, VP of Project & Development Services at JLL Carolinas. Here’s what she says about the future of the office could look like as employees return to their “next normal.”

Nakira Carter, VP of Project & Development Services at JLL Carolinas

  • What are some of the major office design trends we were seeing before 2020?

We were seeing a lot more collaboration areas in office spaces, each with optionality. For example, meeting rooms have been transforming from closed-in areas with a conference room table and desk chairs to creative, comfortable spaces with a sofa and a lounge chair or a high-top table.

Break rooms were becoming much larger, and instead of just kitchen areas with a fridge, microwave and a few tables, they were beginning to look more like in-house cafes with enough space to host the entire office for a gathering or impromptu meetings, even with A/V support. We were also seeing a number of our clients really engaging key members of their staff to assist with making big decisions around design, which is extremely important. If you want to create a workspace to attract and retain employees, why not ask the employees what would make them feel inspired and more productive?

  • How has COVID-19 influenced a shift in these trends?

What we’re learning from COVID-19, via employee and client feedback, is that collaboration spaces are here to stay. I think we are going to see a shift from spaces that are heavy with individual workspaces, office and workstations, to spaces with more open, collaborative seating options. Now that the majority of us have realized working from home is doable, more employers are going to offer up flex work policies that may have never had them in the past. That means more hoteling spaces (reservation-based or free address seating), which will drive more demand for collaboration areas. We can expect that individual, heads-down work, like expense reports or accounting will be done at home, but people will come into the office for in-person meetings, group efforts, brainstorming sessions, etc.

  • How will health and safety needs influence office design?

I think we will see more HVAC and filtration system upgrades. Companies will need to look at ways to get fresh air into a building and best practices for recycling that air. We’ll also see an influx of touchless everything. Touchless entry doors, water dispensers, coffee machines, and of course restrooms will be upgraded to be as touchless and sanitary as possible.

  • Now that more people are working from home, will offices get smaller?

The overall average footprint of office spaces will probably remain the same. I don’t believe companies are going to make drastic changes to downsize just because more employees are working from home, more often. Many organizations just won’t thrive without giving employees access to creative workspaces, especially when it is a key component of their culture. For example, at JLL, there’s a great synergy that exists between business lines and since we’ve been back at the office, we have enjoyed spending time in the same space, while maintaining social distance, to connect when we were forced to do so virtually for months. Having people in person for collaborating drives energy and brings that buzz back into the workplace. Long story short, the size of office spaces will stay pretty consistent, it’s the utilization of that space (individual workstations vs. collaboration spaces) that I am anticipating will change.

  • What advice do you have for business leaders as they plan to reconfigure or redesign their office spaces for re-entry?

Really spend time listening to your employees. Administer surveys around working from home vs. working in the office. You don’t want to make assumptions about what your talent wants without asking them. You will likely be surprised at what they say. At JLL, we were surprised to find that even from the beginning, employees weren’t necessarily loving being at home. While many of us enjoyed the extended time with family along with the flexibility, we missed the office and the routines that often times go along with them. That being said, leaders should be prepared to engage a flexible work policy, especially if one did not exist pre-COVID—it’s going to be a required recruitment tool moving forward. If you don’t have one, you may be forgoing access to the best talent.

COVID-19 has forever changed the Future of Work: how we work, where we work and the relationship between employers and employees. Now’s the time for savvy organizations to act quickly in order to navigate their way to the next normal. Click here to watch an on-demand webinar for leadership teams interested in reimagining their organizations in order to thrive in a post-pandemic world.