November 30, 2020

What the Office Looks Like Now vs. Then

So, what in the hell does the workplace look like now?

We have spent decades researching and spending billions of dollars to create dynamic workplaces with low walls, lots of light, and impromptu moments of collaboration. Should we scrap everything we have created and start over? Absolutely not. COVID is temporary, but work itself has changed forever. This does not mean the total elimination of space or a whole office redo. We can adapt our spaces to safely bring people back in a way that allows them to bring their best to work.

Last week’s blog focused on the WHY before the WHAT. The most critical, and maybe most difficult, is how the workplace looks, will never be the same. Flextime is real, and employees want to keep it. At some point, all organizations will have to decide how to run businesses with a distributed workforce. As our clients transitioned to a work from home status, most said they will stay that way until ALL can come back on site.

Still, some feel that it will be more disruptive to have part of the workforce at the office and others at home. The fact is: flextime is here to stay. We all will have to rethink how the office will work because odds are, you will not be 100% staffed 5 days a week. As a business, we need to collaborate, so we have been back at the office since June. BUT- we have people all over the country, so it’s only once a year where we are ever all together anyway.

As with the last blog, let’s take a deep breath and build back the blocks one at a time; this does not have to be overwhelming. The workplace should support the employees and work, not deter it. We can help you through this! When we think of what the office will look like, let’s first look at the research and implications for its use post -Covid19.



Sources: CBRE, Jill



Based on our research and conversations with our clients, this is how we see the spaces functioning as people fold back into the office and the elements that will really make them hum.

Collaboration Space
Most people say that they are more productive at home, and there is truth to that. We are finding that many businesses (not all) have people that are “busy,” but are they producing quality work? In working with our clients planning to return to site, that cycle times take longer, ideation isn’t as swift, and productivity “activities” do not drive results.
Creating space for small, medium, and large group-based work is going to be key. Project-based work that yields immediate solutions, decision-making and subliminal mentoring can be done by creating more medium-sized team areas.

These areas need just a few things for success, do not overcomplicate it right now:
1 – Table: a large table to safely accommodate 4-6 people. Based on the type of work you do, the table height can be your standard seated height, or for a more interactive brainstorming room, go with a standing-height table.
2 – Chairs: Thinking through the safety lens, space chairs far enough apart, rearrange them on casters (wheels) for easy movement, or adjust for counter/bar height if you have a standing-height table.
3 – Markerboards: Give your ideas room to grow. These boards have come a long way, baby. Go with a glass markerboard that does not ghost or look dirty over time. These have become far more achievable in price and gives your best thinkers a place to share.
4 – Technology: I saved the most important for last. If you are going to have to spend money anywhere, it will be on technology!! You need to make sure that you have large display monitors/screens in all collaboration spaces and a webcam to pull in those not back on site. This is the most critical piece to bringing people back on site. This piece will not change after a vaccine. We see companies prepare for the distributed workforce both at home and on-site.

Dedicated Space
Since most companies will not be 100% back on site, they are reconsidering if people need to keep their dedicated spaces. In the 90’s the idea of hoteling and shared spaces really rocked the workplace. Companies have grappled with the question of: “Are my employees productive at home?” Well, we have tested that theory!
One way to adapt the additional space needed to safely social distance for collaborative work is to provide only a percentage of heads-down office spaces. We, SKG, immediately altered from a dedicated desk for each employee to a hoteling scenario. This allows for a few key elements to take place: less clutter to be cleaned on the desk, reduction of stations, increase real estate for shared spaces. This is a shift of relocation of space.
Café/Break Spaces- gym and social spaces
These are going to be taboo for a while. These areas will look very different if used at all. Employees do not want to do social activities at work. Think about how these spaces can either be closed off to conserve energy or repurposed for large group work? These larger cafés could be used for group meetings that need social distancing. These spaces could also be used for training. Our clients now wish they had space for larger training areas to manage social distancing. Temporary problem (hopefully!), so these larger break/cafe spaces might handle training with social distancing.
Having mobile technology and mobile markerboards are essential to make these spaces work. This will help with creative thought and piping in those who are not on site.
See this example of why/how the employees want to use the space upon return:

Source: CBRE


People want to use outdoor space now more than ever! Take advantage of patio spaces, balconies, building outdoor spaces to allow employees to get away for heads-down work, or even take a small meeting outside. The key feature is to make sure your wifi signal is strong so work can continue. So grab a broom, so outdoor furniture, and create a space that your employees will love! (Not sure what the last sentence means )

If you do nothing more than consider these key areas, you are way ahead of the pack. Suppose you connect how your work and your people come together. In that case, all you have to do is feather in a few elements that will make people feel safe, comfortable, and engaged.


This is probably the one area people are most exposed. From the front door all the way to the back of the house, technology is one thing that must be addressed before return.

1 – Temperature Scanners: Some are for it, some are not. But having a simple temperature scanner that alerts body temp upon entry provides quick and non-evasive temp checks. These are evolving each day, and some will have more senses tested in time to come.

2 – Occupancy Sensors: these were gaining popularity pre-Covid19 as large companies wanted to better understand real estate usage. We use these tools to assign people to cleaned desks, track their locations, how space is being used, and notify the cleaning staff of high usage areas. These are very impactful and easy to use tools that can safely inform the use of space and support the turnover of space safely for employees.

3 – Large Displays and Webcams: For years, we have tracked why some huddle and conference spaces are always booked, and some remain empty. It always comes down to TECHNOLOGY. Every huddle, conference room, and team space will have to have the right mix of technology. Adequate displays on the wall, each to plug and play devices and Webcams will be critical. Going back to my earlier comment, companies will be dealing with a distributed workforce. The ability to continually have team members patch in remotely will not end with a vaccine.


This is going to be a vast topic for a while. Based on your density and how close people are will determine the right type and size of screens. These can be easily added to any desk, the sides of desks, or even mobile that can be easily moved for more dense areas. If you do not have your entire workforce back, there is no need to buy tons of screens for desks! We encourage screens that are either fabric that can be cleaned, glass to keep the light flowing, or even markerboard for high functioning spaces.

Mental health is a real issue. We do not encourage creating tombs of tall panels and screens. If you have adjustable height desks, put a screen on the desk so the privacy panel will travel as a user stands. This will keep their voice and any particles from traveling long distances.


To the comment I just mentioned, stress and mental health are real. Bringing in plants and softer elements into the office makes the transition from being at home more comfortable. The workplace will feel a bit more like home, just with better wifi, better access to tools, and your coworkers around you!

To bring this to closure, consider these simple things: a variety of spaces, less dedicated personal space, spruce up your patios and outdoor spaces and for the love of all that is holy, get your technology right! Then add some separation of space and a few plants. Don’t be overwhelmed. Businesses spend thousands, even millions, a year on real estate. The workplace is a viable tool and can help breathe new life into the new year and new goals!

Source: CBRE


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