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Flexibility a key commodity as offices consider re-opening

Flexibility with reopening offices
(Dreamstime/TNS)

“Tomorrow’s office will look nothing like the office of today.”

That notion — that the American workplace will be forever altered after COVID-19 — seems to be a widely held assumption these days. But don’t count on a complete, long-term revamp of your office just yet.

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Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO and co-founder of SquareFoot, a commercial real estate firm in New York, says companies are taking a cautious approach to permanently redefining their workspaces. While some employers are considering renovating existing office space, Wasserstrum says most are looking to address work-related issues due to the current pandemic rather than focus on a complete overhaul of their facilities.

“We have seen an increased desire for flexibility. Companies are looking for shorter-term leases, which was already a trend we were starting to see, and now that’s snowballed in the last couple of months,” Wasserstrum says. “We’re in more uncertain times than we were six months ago, and in times of uncertainty, flexibility is even more at a premium. Plans are changing, the number of remote workers is changing — no one is making long-term plans.”

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Wasserstrum says that even with the seemingly permanent rise of remote workers, companies aren’t writing off the workplace. “I keep seeing headlines about how workers are never going to return to the office but that’s not what we’re hearing. Instead, companies are making decisions now for the next several months, not two years from now,” he says. “I don’t think we can make any predictions about what’s going to happen until we’re past this.”

Office in place

While the recent increase in COVID-19 cases has delayed a return to the workplace for many, Wasserstrum says that’s not stopping business from making sure their offices are ready for workers once they’re given the green light.

“There are a bunch of companies that realize that when it’s time for people to come back to the office, they’ll already have one,” Wasserstrum says. “What’s happening right now is companies are trying to figure out the best way to start utilizing the office as soon as it’s safe. They’re not going to get rid of their lease because a majority of our companies want to actually office, so the real question is what do the next six months look like from an office-utilization standpoint, not the next six years.”

If workers do return to the office sooner than later, they should expect to see some significant changes. “The common areas — those spaces with a couch and some tables — they’re going to be removed or off limits,” says Wasserstrum. “If you’re the only person sitting at your desk, it’s one thing to clean it and sanitize it. If you’re sitting on a couch, how are offices going to clean that space every time you get up? How can they ensure that someone’s always going to be there to give it a thorough cleaning before the next person sits down?”

It’s impossible, says Heidi Vanek, a 31-year-old grant writer from Arlington, Texas. Vanek, who has been using shared workspaces like WeWork and Industrious Office for the past few years, says she used to love stretching out on the pillows and sofas at her previous workspace but knows those days are gone for now — if not for good. “Those are the things you don’t think about — who was sitting there before you, whether or not they wiped their hands on the cushion after rubbing their nose — but now, I’d think about it all the time,” says Vanek, who has been working from home since March. “A shared space is one thing, especially if you have a dedicated desk, but I’m not sure how the concept of communal areas plays out.”

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(C) 2020 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

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