There’s no question: commercial office spaces have shifted dramatically over the past year.
Safety protocols, social distancing measures, and increased remote work have changed the way businesses operate. But for how long?
Many employers now realize some — if not most — work can be done remotely. Meaning demand for commercial office spaces in a post-pandemic world is in decline. In fact, Moody’s predicts a drop of 21% in advertised rent this year for commercial spaces in NYC. (And while that’s likely a more drastic number than commercial office spaces here in Minnesota, that’s a bleaker prediction than the drop during 2008’s financial crisis)
Still, we know traditional workplace environments aren’t gone forever.
Only 16% of people surveyed said they were thriving with their current work from home setup.
This sounds like good news for commercial office spaces post-pandemic…but it’s worth asking: How many employees would say they were thriving in the workplace before?
Ultimately, the question isn’t “Will we return to the office after COVID?”. Experts predict nearly half of employers will bring employees back on site full-time this year. Many others will offer a more flexible hybrid of on-site and remote work.
So instead, the question should be: “How can we make commercial office spaces a place where workers thrive? A place they’re excited to return to — even if it means giving up those WFH sweatpants and resuming the grind of a daily commute?”
While company culture undoubtedly plays a large role in employee satisfaction, workplace design is a key factor that commercial landlords can’t afford to overlook.
So how can you design a commercial office space that makes employees and tenants eager to return to work post-pandemic?
Here are 7 factors commercial property owners should consider to make office spaces a desirable location.
1. Maximize positive social interactions in the workplace
After months of relative isolation, extroverted office mates are likely looking forward to spontaneous chats and in-person brainstorming sessions. Create an office environment that fosters collaboration, with communal spaces and smaller breakout rooms for team meetings.
For employers, even small details like weekly donuts and coffee can foster a better sense of community. For building owners, quality kitchenettes and dining areas are key to a homey feel in a commercial space.
2. Break free from traditional office design
Office parks can feel so…office-y. And while working from home has its faults, I don’t think many people have been pining for the once-familiar sea of beige cubicles.
Think outside the box when it comes to office design, creating a space whose colors and design features communicate your company values. Want a calm environment that promotes productivity and concentration? Opt for cool blues and whites.
Creating an environment that fosters creativity and boosts confidence? Sunny yellow accents might do the trick. Color theory is powerful, so use it to your advantage in your office design.
3. Maximize natural light — and bring nature indoors
Traditional offices are notorious for poor lighting and limited natural light, so consider ways to maximize sunlight — whether through added windows, skylights, or outdoor space for employees to enjoy. This isn’t just good for company morale. Access to natural light means better overall health and wellness — and higher productivity — for your employees.
Plus, more natural light gives you the opportunity to bring greenery into your commercial office space. And if this feels like a cute decor afterthought — think again. With proximity to live plants, employees are likely to experience a boost in physical health, mental wellbeing, and overall mood. Plants have even been proven to make employees 15% more productive.
4. Create a virtual-friendly environment
A return to the office doesn’t mean virtual meetings are a thing of the past. Plan your office space accordingly. We’ve all had a mutual understanding for one another’s poor Zoom setups and poorly-lit on-screen spaces. After all, most of us scrambled to implement video conferencing overnight.
But now, we’re leaving survival mode behind, and businesses must adapt so they can show up to the digital world with the same professionalism as in-person. Post-pandemic offices should have a conference room or two equipped with the technology, optimized lighting, acoustics, and background design to allow employees to host virtual meetings and conferences like total pros.
5. Provide flexibility and variety
A key benefit of working from home is the freedom to work where you want. At the kitchen table, at a desk, or from the sofa. Now, the thought of being confined to a single desk and chair for 8 straight hours is less appealing.
As you design your workspace, consider how you can provide a variety of settings for employees to complete their work:
- A coffee house environment in the kitchenette for people to socialize or perch at a bar stool to answer morning emails
- A lounge area with overstuffed sofas and armchairs for one-on-one meetings or a change of scenery
- Private mini-offices to take calls and work without distractions
- A bank of standing desks to stretch legs and step away from the office chair
Consider how you can divide the space to replicate the features employees enjoyed about working from home.
6. Prioritize employee wellness
Another important consideration for a top-tier office building is access to wellness spaces and amenities. Everyone can’t support a full-onsite gym, but consider ways your space can make daily fitness and wellness more accessible for employees:
- A meditation or yoga room complete with mats, dimmable lighting, and relaxing music
- Secure bike racks — even showers, changing rooms, and lockers to remove barriers for bike commuters
- Even well-groomed landscaping and pathways to encourage quick strolls to destress and stretch
And of course, an on-site gym or a partnership with a nearby fitness center is always appreciated.
7. On-site childcare and amenities
For many, one of the biggest obstacles during the pandemic has been finding reliable childcare. In September, when many schools adopted a remote learning model, over 1 million people left their jobs — 80% of them women.
While it seems likely that schools will return to a more traditional model this fall, the fact remains: quality, reliable childcare is a constant concern for parents — one with the potential to impact careers.
On-site childcare, then, would be a tremendous benefit for parents of young children and a major draw in their job hunt.
Plus, companies who offer on-site childcare see lower rates of absenteeism (since no one has to stay home because a grandmother or nanny is unavailable last minute). Not only is attendance better, people tend to stay. Companies with on-site childcare report lower turnover rates for employees of young children.
With many companies offering flexible work schedules post-pandemic, there may be a decreased need for desk space. By adapting unused office space into a childcare facility, companies can attract — and retain — top industry talent.
Other on-site commercial office amenities could include:
- Dry cleaning
- Landscaped outdoor area with picnic tables
- Access to food and beverage options — with an on-site juice bar or a catered monthly meal
Any amenities you can offer that streamline the business day and provide increased opportunities for social interaction at the office will provide a major perk in a post-pandemic workplace.
Get people excited to return to the office
Offices need to be more than just a place to sit at our desks and work. Many people have proven they can do that at home.
What’s missing from the remote work model is collaboration, inspiration, and in-person conversations that spark ideas and foster connection. So that’s where the future of office design needs to be headed. It’s how landlords and employers can set themselves apart — and make their building the place employees want to go to each day.