When the COVID-19 pandemic first started, and health officials were scrambling to respond appropriately, one thing many people resorted to was working from home. During the early days of the pandemic, 35% of Americans turned to telecommuting for work. People whose jobs could have been performed from home mostly stayed in; a Pew Research Center survey shows that 71% of potential telecommuters worked from home, while the rest opted to work from an office.
However, by our second June in the pandemic, the share of Americans working from home dropped to around 14%. It might be too early to say that things are going back to normal, but people are going back to their workplaces, and it seems like no one is sure what to make of it.
On the one hand, there have been strong opinions about the importance of going back to the office, backed by surveys like the one that found that 94% of people would like to go back to the office at least once a week. On the other hand, 29% of respondents in a different survey said they would quit their job if they weren’t able to do it remotely anymore. It’s a polarizing issue.
The Indestructible Office
One thing that already happened during the pandemic is that many offices have reduced their square footage and amenities. That’s the type of move a realtor like Dylan Suitor would make. Even though he was more than eager to return to the office, he’d recommend considering downsizing for more than just cutting down the costs.
If there’s one thing that HR departments and office managers know now it’s that different types of workspace models are not only possible but also desirable.
“The spaces where people work will always change together with the nature of that work,” says Dylan Suitor. “Offices will need to adapt to new modes of work. Places that allow flexible work arrangements will not require as much physical space.”
The demand for office space is picking up, too. “We’re seeing reports that the United States market, even though still not in line with what it usually is, is steadily getting there,” notes Dylan Suitor. The office is here to stay.
The Different Models of Flexibility
If there’s one thing that HR departments and office managers know now it’s that different types of workspace models are not only possible but also desirable. Numerous studies have shown that flexible workplace arrangements can lead to increased productivity. For some workplaces, however, flexibility isn’t, and never really was an option. Even when the situation was at its bleakest, 65% of Americans still went to work.
There will likely continue to be some flexibility to the workplace. Some companies will stay strictly in the workplace. Others will completely move to remote work. Encouraged by the experience during the pandemic, a large number in between might experiment with different arrangements. Leasing smaller satellite office spaces, creating spaces where people will congregate only when they need to collaborate, or having spaces with stations for specific types of work are all feasible options.
After the pandemic, companies might need to find ways to demonstrate their values in the workplace more than ever. With a workforce coming out of a global state of emergency, a state that might have changed not only how they view their job but what they prioritize in life, finding a way to reconnect and get back on mission might prove a difficult challenge. But workplaces have never been without their challenges, so that’s one thing everyone can count on.