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Why COVID-19 Is Changing Office Space Not Ending It

Although COVID-19 has radically altered every aspect of our lives, one of the biggest changes has been to the way we work. Whether it’s in a spare bedroom, at the kitchen table or from the couch, more people than ever are working from home—instead of going into a physical office. This has made some speculate that the shift to mandatory remote work is going to cause the end to buildings and office space as we know it. But, for many companies and employees, working in an office setting promotes greater productivity, collaboration, and meaningful socialization. 

While the pandemic has accelerated a widespread acceptance of remote work, it won’t make buildings obsolete. But, it will change the way we use and interact in office space—it will be an evolving, and challenging, process. The reopening of buildings will happen in a slow, phased approach, but once restrictions loosen and it’s deemed safe to be in an office again, buildings will start to come back to life. There will be new guidelines to follow, and many tenants will have new or changed needs, not only soon after the pandemic ends but for the foreseeable future.

Building operations will need to evolve rapidly to support tenants and their employees across these phases. Operators will need to have and be held accountable for putting processes and systems in place that ensure they are paying attention to running a safe and healthy building, according to state guidelines and the wishes of tenants. That’s where building operations technology comes in. This tech can help office buildings not only survive the pandemic but thrive afterward. And, those that already had an intuitive platform in place, likely did not feel the force of disruption as others did.

While companies will keep some employees remote as they look to cut costs and minimize disease spread, it doesn’t mean offices will disappear. In-office work still enhances productivity, collaboration and socialization.

During the pandemic, many employees struggle to create or replicate a quiet and productive work environment. And, employees need good time and project management skills to be successful when working from home. As such, offices will continue to be necessary to maximize the productivity of many employees. Similarly, when employees collaborate in the same space, communication and creativity come naturally—allowing ideas to flow and more significant work and conversations to happen. 

Before the pandemic, most employees had the opportunity to socialize every weekday in a meaningful way and many want to return to having those social interactions and relationships at work. Working from home also blurs the boundaries between work and personal life, leading to overworking. 

Offices will still be necessary post-pandemic, but they will look different and they will serve a new role in our workflows. Increased flexibility between at-home and in-office work is one of the biggest and most necessary changes the effects of COVID-19 will bring to offices. Companies are also rethinking spaces to prepare for employees’ returns. Because they’re having to make, in some cases, drastic changes to their office layouts, companies will likely want flexible reconfigurations that can be changed with little effort and help from the building operations team. 

Shorter and more flexible lease options are another change building operators and owners should expect. With businesses being forced to downsize or close altogether, many companies are looking to exit or renegotiate their leases. This unexpected inability to make their current leases work will shift companies to look for assistance from their landlord. In order to maintain relationships and maximize rentable square feet, it’s in owners’ and operators’ best interest to incorporate this type of flexibility into their business practices. 

Now that tenants are slowly returning to work, building owners and operators need to focus on business continuity and enhanced building operations to shift to the fundamental changes catapulted by the pandemic. This means not only making sure buildings are operating at optimal efficiency, they also need to improve buildings to make them more competitive than before the pandemic. 

As tenants are returning, they expect their offices to be fully functional when they get back. If building operators have continued crucial activities like preventative maintenance, security and inspections, it will be much easier to meet these expectations. Neglecting crucial building operations when tenants are gone can also result in more costly equipment repairs or replacements. Building owners and operators also need to plan for enhancing building operations and take into consideration new mandates. This can range from a host of things like touchless entry and check-in, decreased elevator capacity, hand sanitizing stations all throughout common spaces and temperature check touch points through third party services.

Given our current environment, tenants are acutely aware of how safe (or not) it is to return to office buildings. If building operations teams embrace and implement cutting edge technology—like proactive maintenance, instant and increased communication, and efficient data analysis—they’ll not only have an edge over competition, but will create a more seamless re-occupancy process for their teams and tenants. Plus, building operations technology can help building owners and operators navigate new challenges with tenants having different space needs. With the right technology, building owners can accommodate tenants more easily.  

Office building owners and operators still have a long road ahead before occupancy reaches anything like we saw before the pandemic. Those that will come out on the other end successfully will be those who can couple good faith efforts to serve their tenants with the tight processes, systems, data analysis, communication, documentation and records that have always been best practice.

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