Is your office feeling a little sparse lately? A lot of business people are finding themselves standing in the middle of empty desks, sometimes row upon row, while their intended occupants are working from their kitchen tables.
While the work is getting done elsewhere, you’re still paying for this space. Is there a better way to use it?
Are Offices Extinct?
Remote work has been a slow-burn trend for years, and the pandemic has poured gasoline on it. A massive percentage of professional people will be working from home for the foreseeable future. But in the process of exploding remote work, COVID-19 has also revealed some of its fatal flaws. The pandemic has demonstrated that, while that office space might change, office workplaces are here to stay.
Not every team can effectively collaborate from home. Training is difficult, and there’s little of the office camaraderie that comes from daily familiarity. Furthermore, anyone who has been to a virtual conference or trade show knows how useful they are (or, rather, aren’t).
The office workplace is far from extinct, but how we think about our space is changing in the short term—and perhaps in the long term, as well.
Recent decades have seen a trend, largely driven by the tech industry, away from the segmented office style towards open concept spaces where people can collaborate freely. With the focus on teamwork, sharing, and public spaces, this has also allowed for a more densely-packed workplace.
The bad news for those with an open concept office is that you’ve probably had a steeper adaptation curve of cleaning and distancing than the cubicle guys. The good news is that you have many more options in terms of how you can use those big empty spaces.
Option 1: Invest in Morale
Working from home trades perceived safety for the ability to work together face-to-face. Those returning to the office may be looking to get some of that in-person interaction back.
Multipurpose areas can build morale, facilitate higher quality work via collaboration, and inject dynamism into the office place. You have the space and creating more of these areas can pay off nicely.
Move some desks, clear a larger space, and create a multipurpose area for safe collaboration. Done right, it could be a guest speaking area, an open-air boardroom, or a training hub.
To ensure your team is comfortable using the space, make communal surfaces as minimal and simple as possible for easy wiping. Space chairs out for distancing or, even better, skip the chairs and use this as an opportunity to embrace stand up meetings.
Option 2: Make it Flexible
The future of the office is flexibility. Many employees will return looking to scratch their social and collaborative itch but will still want the convenience of working from home. Build that option into your workplace.
“Hot desks” are shared workspaces wherein 2 or 3 people can use it when they’re in the office. While publicly touched surfaces are a no-go, offer the empty desk only and require use of their laptop from home. Ensure they wipe down the work space each evening.
Setting this up could open up workplaces reliably for the long term and allow you to create more permanent multipurpose areas.
Option 3: Downsize
This is more a question of financials than personnel. If revenue won’t be flowing again for the foreseeable future, two main options are:
- Rent the unused space. Even with a flooded market and lower-than-average rent prices, you can still bring in some revenue and potentially create some smart partnerships with other organizations.
- Negotiate with your landlord. See if you can get a decrease in rent prices or if you can give up your space in favour of a smaller one that could meet your current needs. Depending on your landlord, they might even have a space available that would suit the new you perfectly.
If you’re holding onto empty office space, with no immediate plans to use its full capacity, ask yourself if this has anything to do with pride or sentimentality. Now is the time to look inward and figure out what your business really needs. Talk to your team. If it’s time to let the space go, make the hard – but smart – choice together.