The pandemic has certainly taught us one thing about organizations: we don’t need as much physical space for work to happen.
We’re currently witnessing the great contraction of office real estate space. CFOs have already made the decision that less real estate space is a good thing for the bottom line. It begs the following question:
First, as I’ve previously written, you will want to put together a cross-functional team of leaders to help sort out this question. Presuming the team is now in place, the next set of questions are predicated on what your use of space currently looks like and what it should look like in a post-pandemic world.
Let’s examine meeting rooms for starters.
For example, your organization decides to cut back on its square footage imprint by 25 percent. Somewhere along the way, another decision is made that employees can work from home two days a week. Because there will be fewer people in the office at a given time, there will likely be teams who want to collaborate and be together as a team more than prior to the pandemic. Work-life will become much more planned to be together.
It means you ought to be contemplating an increase to the raw number of meeting rooms (and the size of those meeting rooms) compared to what you had before the pandemic. Teams will be arranging themselves to conveniently show up onsite on a given day, prearrange several back-to-back face-to-face group meetings, head out for lunch and then reconvene for a few smaller gatherings such as 1-1 sessions. By the end of the day, they’re on their way out the door to the confines of their home office.
Your office space was likely not set up for the number of team-based face-to-face meetings on the horizon. Thus, you’ll want to start deciding how the office will be redesigned, accounting for more and different types of meeting spaces.
Next up? Private offices. The question that must be addressed is whether you require closed-door private offices anymore. Maybe they are required. Maybe not. Either way, it’s a decision that must be made. Should directors and above be entitled to a closed-door office and have the opportunity to work from home? If you choose to work from home two days a week, does that mean you relinquish the closed-door office?
Perhaps you will require offices that are permanent for certain people. Another consideration might be how big those offices should be. Before the pandemic, some executives could fit an entire lacrosse team into their office. Is that really necessary if the organization is now advocating that people are allowed to work two days from home, and the firm also contracted its real estate footprint by 25 percent? I suspect the question around offices—and their sizes—will set off a series of pretentious, hierarchically-driven, elitist debates among senior leaders. Still, it’s nonetheless best to get those conversations out of the way now as you prepare to re-engineer what the office looks like post-pandemic.
Finally, what about common area spaces. There is the lunchroom and perhaps cafeteria to think about if you have one. There is the gym or workout room. There are the beanbag chairs, fireplace nooks, and other areas that are open to anyone. What becomes of these critical, informal and socially collaborative spaces?
The bigger question to ask, perhaps, is whether you need more of this type of space going forward. If employees of any seniority are now working from home two days a week, where will they sit and do work when they come into the office? Should there be more common area space where workers can effortlessly touch down, get some work done, have a few informal chats, and then depart for another episode of “working from home” the next day?
I’ve been privileged to work with TELUS for over ten years, helping to answer many of these questions from a culture change, leadership and collaboration perspective. This body of work specific to a more flexible work style at the company happened between 2008 and 2014, eons before the pandemic. I know firsthand it is possible. 20,000+ team members at TELUS were shifted to remote work practices.
Office space questions are critical to ask upfront, not after the fact. It’s your chance to get ahead of the problem now, prior to the pandemic ending.
In a future column, I’ll tackle those essential questions about culture, collaboration and leadership and their relationship to remote and flexible work styles.
My 4th book, “Lead. Care. Win. How to Become a Leader Who Matters” recently published. Amy. C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School calls it “an invaluable roadmap.” 16+ hour, self-paced online leadership development program is also available.