Workplace Technology Assessment
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By Dave Clifton
Companies weathered the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways. The prevailing approach for many was to transition to remote work and, in extreme cases, downsize their workforce. Now, as businesses consider bringing employees back to work, they’re left with a question. What do you do with extra office space after layoffs and remote working?
For some companies, it’s a question of repurposing a few unused desks and conference rooms. For others, it might mean taking a long, hard look at a lease to determine whether it’s still an efficient expenditure. Most companies will find opportunities to maximize their space through new desking concepts—especially those with a now-flexible workforce.
Here’s a look at the chief options for how to deal with extra office space in a world where traditional space concepts no longer apply.
Option one: Downsize space
For companies that plan to go completely remote or that have downsized significantly during COVID-19, trimming space is a simple, straightforward option. If there’s no intent to bring the workforce back in any meaningful way, space transitions from commodity to luxury. Companies need to ask themselves if the workplace is still essential to everyday operations.
In many cases, downsizing is a far cry from eliminating the workplace. For example, a company occupying 30,000 square feet of office space that’s now 70% remote may choose to cut its office footprint in half. Downsizing may even be less dramatic than that—a reduction in leased space of 10-15%. It’s about balancing the cost of maintaining facilities with the revenue generation they support. If no one is using the space, it’s not generating any revenue.
The primary benefit in downsizing is lease cost savings. And while many commercial building owners have renegotiated around COVID-19 to retain tenants, it doesn’t make sense for companies to pay for space they won’t use.
Option two: Repurpose space
Companies intent on reopening the workplace should consider repurposing space before downsizing. Reimagining office space can shed new light on ways to optimize space for new work habits and productivity.
Repurposing space is an endeavor that needs to happen at-scale for companies. It could be as simple as turning now-unused conference rooms into quiet workstations. In other cases, this change could mean remodeling and redesigning space to better-accommodate the needs of employees. However this transformation pans out, companies need to be aware of new social distancing norms and the space demands of employees.
Repurposing space comes with costs, but can save a company money in the long-run. For example, repurposing space vs. downsizing can help avoid the yo-yo effect when the business begins to expand again: downsize, expand, consolidate, expand, and so on. Learning to optimize the space you have and grow within the context of a new workplace concept is a sustainable option.
Option three: Consider new desking
The ideal solution to utilizing extra space is to find a desking concept that fits within new parameters. Instead of remodeling or repurposing space, redistribute the desks and seats within it. An open-concept benching office becomes a diverse hoteling area. Individual offices become pods for small group collaboration. A new desking concept can give the office new context and imbue space with more flexibility than it once had.
The key to a new desking concept—especially one built atop booking and reservations—is a system of management to back it up. Facility managers need to make sure the new concept is an efficient use of space, and that employees are getting the most out of the transformation. This is especially helpful for flex teams, in workplaces that have variable attendance each day.
New desking mimics the cost-saving opportunities of downsizing by creating new forms of productivity and revenue, similar to repurposing space. Often, new space design and new desking go hand-in-hand as an additive approach to utilizing space, rather than an outright subtractive one.
No matter the approach, think long-term
As companies consider how to best-adapt their workplaces, it’s important to act with mind for the future. Particularly, the future of remote working. How much of your workforce is already remote? Will that number increase in the future? As your company expands, will you bring people in-house or hire remote? And, as you make these moves, how does it affect your need for space?
COVID-19 may have been a catalyst for workplace change, but there are still rippling effects to consider. Remote work and distributed teams are the new normal. What new work arrangements will this change yield? What purpose does the workplace serve for your company? Identifying the workplace’s role in the future will help companies make smarter decisions about how they manage space today.
Keep reading: Five Empty Office Space Ideas for an Efficient Workplace