Debate about work-life balance has taken a back seat to the debate about work-from-home versus work-from-office balance. After months of firsthand experience, widespread adoption and improved technologies to facilitate the dispersed work-force model, there is still little consensus on how companies will office in the future – both near and long term.
Obviously, some of this depends on the industry. I’m pretty sure an HOA would not approve a nuclear lab in a scientist’s garage. However, for industries in which companies (or departments within companies) could function in a central location or with employees working from home, there isn’t clear agreement as to which model is optimal for both employees and the company.
Important processes are breaking down in the work-from-home environment. It’s hard to onboard new employees and equally hard to form new mentoring relationships internally. The institutional knowledge picked up from being around colleagues is not conveying well through a screen.
However, employees are enjoying time saved by not commuting and are often more productive. I read recently individuals are using 40 percent of their former commute time to work more and spending the other 60 percent on nonwork-related activities. This seems to be in line with the other quoted statistics showing employees working from home are 13 percent more productive (research by Nick Bloom of Stanford University from 2013 quantified this).
Going back to a full in-office model is going to be a tough sell in many companies.
This leaves the question of optimal blend, and what this means for the future of office real estate.
Some have suggested that the optimal blend will be a 2/3 schedule, where employees work from home for two days a week and come into the office the other three days. This gives workers opportunity to connect with one another, create community and form/grow relationships. They will also enjoy the zero commute and extra time two days a week.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, surveys suggest that concern about contagion will remain even once a vaccine is in widespread use. Employees will continue to require more space to spread out and feel comfortable in group settings.
Social-distancing guidelines for offices currently dictate a minimum of six feet of space around all employees. Gone are the days of four-foot desks pushed together.
Companies can accommodate additional spacing a couple ways. They can remove desks to space remaining desks further, requiring employees to hot desk/share desks with each other as they rotate in. Or they can retain the existing desk count and alternate seating.
The second option will likely be the winner. Employees really like to have a place of their own, even if they are only using it three days a week.
There is a clear temptation for companies to consider eliminating their office space during this pandemic. But it is important for companies to think about the long-term, and often intangible, costs of eliminating office space.
Companies will benefit from the flexibility and nimbleness a shared space provides as they gradually bring back employees, optimizing the home versus office balance.
Lesley McAdams, Building1
Lesley is the founder of Building1 – Shared Offices, a small-scale professional shared office designed to create and foster community. She is also the founder of RM Real Estate Investment Management, a Developer and NC Real Estate Agency. Lesley is an active developer in the NC Triangle region with projects ranging from single-asset to planned residential communities. Additionally, Lesley acts as a broker and advisor to commercial and residential real estate clients and investors. She graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in Economics and MIT Sloan School of Management with an MBA concentrating in Financial Engineering.