Future-Proofing Your Office

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how we interact with the world. Offices are now forced to change in order to meet new demands for health and safety, capacity needs, and cost-cutting in recessionary environments. Changing these spaces will be a huge undertaking, sucking up key resources in a time when businesses need to better redirect their energies. 

Static Office Space is a Liability

For many companies, their offices have changed from a much-needed, necessary cost to a significant liability. COVID-19 has triggered a new awareness of health and safety, and companies must invest heavily to bring their space up to standards and expectations.

Density is the Prime Determinant of Space Usage

Density has long been the driving force of office cost – when you need more space, your costs go up. This has led to a demand for denser offices over the past decade. Pre-COVID-19, some companies were targeting densities of 100 to 110 sqft/person. 

COVID-19 has shifted this on its head. Companies now have to reduce density to meet changing employee expectations and safety legislation. Many are taking the immediate steps of halving their staff in office at any given time while others have simply decided to continue working from home while reviewing safety measures. Some are even divesting up to half of their offices.

This drastic change in capacity requirements means that what companies currently have in their offices does not work. Outside of workstation seating, common spaces such as hallways, meeting rooms and cafeteria space now have to be carefully evaluated for safety. A previously well-designed office that comfortably fits 100 is now poorly suited to fit 70, and might need a lot of work before it can fit 50. For many current office spaces, a reconfiguration or renovation is needed before the space can be safely utilized.

Changes are Costly Endeavours

Prior to COVID-19, we’ve worked with a publicly traded company where reconfigurations were 70% of their facilities budget (excluding lease). Some companies we are talking to are working on plans to rip out and replace all of their workstations in order to meet new physical distancing needs. On the vendor side, reduced trade, labour and supply are slowing down the ability to implement these changes. 

In 2018 Toronto, average costs to renovate an office based on an progressive modern open space floor plan and tight budget was $133/sqft. A design that is less dense and better suits a health and safety conscious environment would average $157/sqft. If we half the density required and allocate 200 sq ft per employee, it would cost the company $30,000/employee to renovate their space. That’s a huge cost to bear! 

A Changing Marketplace

Exacerbating the cost issue is the uncertainty in the future. If the investment in renovating your office space can last 10 or 20 years, it might make economic sense to do so. However, COVID-19 has generated a lot more additional unknowns about the future.

Where the Pandemic is Headed

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that effective, decisive government action can help effectively curb the spread of the virus. Many are concerned about the potential of a second or third wave of COVID-19, with governments ready to take decisive action and enact strong preventative measures. For the near term, it’s unclear whether renovating or reconfiguring offices will make the office occupiable. 

Furthermore, what happens if the pandemic resolves? Would the changes that were made have to be returned to the way it was prior to the pandemic? If this happened, all the time, effort and money spent on upgrading the office would have gone to waste. 

Choices Around How To Work

The pandemic has also shown the world that working remotely can be done. Employee choice is now touted as the next new thing for companies to grapple with. Many various visions about office space have been put forward, with some realizing that they can’t work without their office, some suggesting that smaller satellite offices are the way of the future, and others going digital default. The social expectation of companies is changing, and there is still no clear sense of where that will land. 

Recessionary Environment 

One thing is for sure – we are at the start of a deep recession as economies around the world shrink. Many companies will be tightening their belt, eliminating unnecessary spend as profits drop. Offices that were previously necessary are now optional thanks to COVID-19, and are potentially big-ticket items on the chopping block. Why spend more money on renovating or reconfiguring an office for a workforce that might potentially not be able to use it? 

Reconfigurable Offices Add Value

The truth is, the office provides significant value in providing a space that fosters collaboration. As we work from home, many people are struggling from the lack of social experience of the office. Working from home can be a lonely and isolating experience, and for those of us who are used to working out of a shared space, that experience cannot be replicated virtually. The office is a cultural and collaboration center for many companies. Balancing the costs and value-add here is critical for many companies to move forward.

Reducing Overall Risk with Flexibility

Reconfigurable space can help flip the value equation around – adding significantly more value to the office by providing much-needed flexibility. By implementing space reconfigurability, your office can now flexibly adjust to the changing environment more effectively. Should the government institute further safety requirements, a reconfigurable workspace can quickly add a multitude of safety measures such as physical barriers and easy-to-clean materials. Similarly, if the conditions are relaxed, a reconfigurable workspace can easily return to its previous configuration to allow for higher density.

What this means is that you retain the option. You do not have to choose a side and gamble the massive investment costs. Instead, a reconfigurable office allows you to reap the benefits of an office while observing the situation.

Removing Expectations by Treating Everything as Non-Permanent

Another significant benefit of having a reconfigurable office is it helps you generate new possibilities. A big part of planning for a reconfigurable office is to minimize permanent items. This also allows you to dive deep and truly understand your needs around what is absolutely required and what is a nice-to-have in your office. 

Future-Proof is Worth Investing In

The only thing certain in all of this uncertainty is that change is coming. Without knowing what’s to come, it is important to invest wisely or risk losing the gamble. Reconfigurable space helps you maintain the value of having a physical office, while providing you with optionality for the future. It creates options and choices in a future that is hard to predict – what’s more valuable than that?