It seems like a lifetime ago when our weekly schedules revolved around our commute to the office. It has now been well over seventeen months since COVID-19 first became a public health concern. While vaccination rates continue to climb and aggregate infection rates continue to plummet, the fate of the new professional standard for office space remains somewhat uncertain. 

We are beginning to see plenty of organizations opting for a hybrid model. Here, employees return to the office for a minimum amount of time, determined by the organizational leadership. When employees do not work from the office, they return to their remote work setting. Some hybrid models place employees on an alternating schedule, where one group of employees returns to the office while another group works remotely. In any case, the growing dependence on hybrid work models, coupled with a growing familiarity around remote work, poses the question—is all of this office space as necessary as it once was?

The significance of having an office space

So, you have begun to daydream about the implications of your employer forfeiting their office space. Given the looming questions about new COVID-19 variants and the immense convenience of working from home, that makes sense. But first, consider the significance of having an office space. 

Some claim that having an office simplifies the process of monitoring employees. Electronic methods of monitoring work, such as timekeeping applications, do work. But for organizations that visually examine their employees and their output to assess productivity, having a centralized office space matters. Another reason companies seek to return to the office involves idea-sharing. Having a centralized location for all employees to meet in person encourages more interpersonal communication among teammates. As a result, employees can begin to think of their office more as a safe space for brainstorming with their colleagues, as opposed to a place they simply need to be for the sake of maintaining an income. 

I am sure that there is a significant portion of anecdotal evidence suggesting that lunch-and-learns and elevator catch-ups break the ice for employees looking to expand their professional network and brainstorm more in the office. However, there is not a great deal of research to support the claim that working from the office facilitates a greater exchange of ideas. Consider how familiar organizations have become with cloud technologies and video conferencing systems. Perhaps that familiarity explains why New York City’s office vacancy rates rose by 11.3% in the past year, the highest level in 27 years. 

When scaling back office space, what is at stake?

No office policy is successful without the employees wanting to sign on. Before making any substantial changes to your office space, consider what the people who occupy that space want most. Survey data suggests that most office workers look forward to returning to the office. However, they would only like to return between two and three hours per week. That data implies that office space should be more about the quality of the environment, instead of how many employees can fit. 

Of course, cost needs must also be considered. The current state of the real estate market might encourage landlords to increase their flexibility surrounding contracts. Therefore, organizations locked into long-term contracts for their office space can now rethink how they use that space or modify their budget to spend less on rent and more on commuter benefits. To that end, scaling back office space also requires an evaluation of commuting patterns. For example, large organizations tend to congregate in the most accessible neighborhoods in cities like New York. That way, employees who come into the city from the suburbs are not discouraged from working there. 

If more organizations opt for a hybrid model, then trips to the office will not be as frequent as they once were. Consequently, office locations should prioritize attracting talent from more distant locations. That priority should manifest as a focus on long-distance transportation options, such as proximity to highways or commuter rail stations (Amtrak, for example) instead of short-distance options (subway and bus stops). 

About Krishen Iyer

Krishen Iyer is a California-based entrepreneur with a knack for contracting and marketing. After graduating from San Diego State University in 2003, Iyer began working with insurance distribution centers. Iyer became an expert in managing website traffic and building brand recognition for health and dental insurance clients through that work. 

Today, Iyer continues to draw on that initial exposure to digital marketing through his newest endeavor, MAIS Consulting Services. The Encinitas-based firm collaborates with clientele from southern California and beyond to identify knowledge gaps in the insurance center’s contracting and marketing policies. The firm then brainstorms solutions to fill those gaps to achieve measurable business goals, such as increased profit margins or a more extensive customer base.