Workplace pos COVID-19 

Francisco Vázquez |  Founder of 3g office

COVID-19 has not only put our healthcare system in tension, but has also come to question the traditional model of face-to-face work that still exists in a large number of companies.

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The first thing I would like to make clear is that imposed telework like the one we are living in these weeks does not correspond to what we understand as teleworking, since, in addition to being mandatory, the conditions have not been optimal in most cases: anxiety about the future crisis, uncertainty, presence of children to attend to in their homework, improvised technology, lack of a defined and prepared space for teleworking, … However, despite all this, it has become clear how technology can promote another work model more committed to reconciliation and the environment; and more suitable to respond to crises like the one we are facing. After this experience, employees and companies will promote a non-mandatory teleworking model within the framework of a more extensive flexible work policy, which had already been implemented in many organizations for more than 10 years.

Flexible work, of which telework is one of the tools, consists of working flexibly from the most suitable location for people and for the activity to be carried out. Locations can be multiple, for example: at our company headquarters, at another client or partner headquarters, at home, in libraries, on the train, at an airport, in hotels, in Co-workings, … always looking for the most appropriate place to be more productive.

What will happen to the corporate workspaces after COVID-19?

In the short term, a series of hygienic measures must be implemented, such as new disinfection and cleaning procedures that give the employee enough confidence and security to return to their workplace. The return to workplaces should also be staggered and flexible to preserve «social distance». To do this, it is necessary to define, with employees and collaborators, as has been done in many companies, ad-hoc flexible work policies in order to manage, naturally, the flows of employees in corporate headquarters. We will live, in short, very aware of the capacity and hygiene. During this phase it is recommended that companies provide other alternative places for teleworking such as hotels, libraries, co-workings, business centers… and, of course, our houses.

In the corporate workspaces we do not estimate very significant changes in the short term, the current space distributions will be left to be occupied with a density of around 50%.  In order to facilitate the process, and for each person to feel comfortable in their “social distance”, it is recommended, for those companies that still have assigned workspaces, that they release this assignment and that each employee can choose the place where they feel more safe. For this, basic rules will be established to order this flexible use of available space. In this short-term phase, the current distributions will have to be reviewed and small spatial changes should be made to support and facilitate both hygiene and flexibility.

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In the medium term, in which companies will have matured their flexible work model, which, as I said before, will allow employees and collaborators to work in mobility, always looking for the best time and the best location to carry out their activities, with a mix of locations that will include corporate spaces, flexible spaces, public spaces, … and of course their houses. It is time then for a redesign of the corporate headquarters that responds to the reality of each organization.

To redesign corporate spaces in the medium term correctly, it is key to monitor the entire process from the beginning until maturation occurs. The redesign will be done working with the evidence of the post-COVID-19 model.

This working model will be translated at the corporate space design level, in what is called the flexible office. The flexible office adapts to the flexible work model, the people, the technology, the degree of mobility, the strategy and the activities (activity based design). We started the design of flexible offices more than ten years ago with the arrival of mobile technology, there are many examples in almost all countries, from which we can learn. The design methodology and solutions of a flexible office are simple and tested, however, there are two new aspects that must be incorporated as a result of the COVID-19: Increased mobility and «social distance»

We have been observing increasing mobility at corporate headquarters for years, even if they did not have flexible work policies. Occupancy ratios before COVID-19 that did not exceed 70% were quite common (7 tables occupied out of 10), this was already raising doubts about personal assignment of positions, since at least a third of the time they remained empty and, on the other hand, the demand for meeting and socialization places grew. This occupation ratio is reduced below 50% in those companies where we have implemented a flexible work policy, in which there is no allocation of an individual space to each employee. Considering this mobility by moving to unassigned models of spaces has allowed many companies during these past years to optimize the use of space, adjusting it to real needs, impacting productivity and operating costs, reducing corporate space by 40%.

After the experience of forced telework, remote work at home, or elsewhere other than the corporate headquarters, will increase, and the occupancy ratios of the corporate headquarters will drop below 50%, so the flexible office model will be extended. However, the very attractive optimization of operating costs, associated with the implementation of a flexible office, to saving ratios of 40%, will be much more difficult to obtain due to “social distance”. The concept of “social distance” will clearly influence the design of the new flexible offices and generates, a priori, a need to increase the ratio of space per employee. For example, meeting rooms originally planned for 8 people, will be used for 4;  benches of workstations where we had 6 workers will go to 3, it will not be advisable to place the posts face to face, and there will be a reduction in capacity in cafeterias, …

There is thus a tension between the logic of optimizing space due to low occupancy rates, with the logic of maintaining a social distance. This tension is likely to create a neutral effect on the overall dimension of corporate spaces.

Francisco Vázquez

Founder de 3g office

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