Commercial

Navigating the Office Reopening in 2021: Steps for Success and Missteps to Avoid

2021 just might be the year of the reopening of the office. With two vaccines in distribution plus promises of more, what will the future of the workplace look like in the United States? And how do you prepare?

Upcoming Federal Regulations for COVID Safety

Within 48 hours of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, he issued an executive order directing OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to create workplace safety protocols in light of COVID-19. Experts predict the office reopening rules will include a mask mandate, physical distancing, and ventilation standards to meet new public health requirements. While the CDC has issued similar recommendations, the difference here is that the guidelines will transform into enforceable regulations.
With COVID-19 cases still on the rise in many parts of the United States., employers should be mindful when reopening office spaces. We encourage all employers and building managers to monitor coronavirus cases in their areas and to adhere to national, state, and local health and safety guidelines when considering reopening. 

The Toll on Business and Personal Life in Remote Work

It seemed as if the world turned to remote work overnight in mid-March 2020 without missing a beat: productivity skyrocketed, overhead costs plummeted, and some companies even vowed to permanently give up a headquarters location, instead building modern office systems that are compliant with new public health regulations. However, many remote workers quickly recognized that balancing work, childcare, and schooling is no easy job.
A 2020 study by Sandra Matz noted the correlation between where people work and how they feel1. “People feel more extroverted, more agreeable, more conscientious, when they are in other places, compared to when they are at home,” she said, while “people feel more disorganized and chaotic when they are at home.”
Remote work also takes a toll on creativity, collaboration, cooperation, and connection. As CEO of Chef Robotics, Rajat Bhageria, recently explained after missing a critical deadline: “[remote work is] just a logistical nightmare”2. Issues that could previously be resolved in a few hours can now take days without the luxury of in-person intra-office communication.

The Rise of Co-Working & Flexible Office Space

The future of work may reside with flexible office space. A prime example is co-working which allows entrepreneurs and employees from different companies to work in a centralized location. Real estate services firm CBRE Group Inc. predicted co-working could account for 13% of all office space by 20303.
Given safety and public health concerns, shared space offices are shifting to include hand sanitizer stations, social distancing, physical barriers (plexiglass separators), facial covering requirements, and elevator limitations. Break rooms are also shifting to grab-and-go centers or being eliminated altogether to meet public health standards, as well as changing employee expectations
As JLL Senior Vice President and Senior Research Director, Lauren Gilchrist, states: “We predict that by 2030, 30% of all office space will be flexible4. She also notes that leasing will shift to include flexible leasing terms and durations.
Company executives are also considering ways to provide office space more efficiently. Global Principal of Strategy Albert De Plazaola at Unispace predicts, “A more comprehensive approach to the hub-and-spoke model is to provide a variety of “spoke” work environments, which may not need significant capital investment” – such as leveraging co-working spaces in suburban hubs to support “microsites”5.
Armen Vartanian, senior vice president of global workplace services at Okta Inc., also embraces the spoke model: “These smaller offices could be spread across the Bay Area so that employees who live in San Francisco or the East Bay could go to an office in their own vicinity, and those who live farther down the peninsula would have yet another option”6.
A new wave of leveraging the office is called the “dynamic workplace.” Instead of just limiting and social distancing employees, the dynamic workplace is built upon fewer employees coming to the office and repurposing shared space, while allowing for flexibility, productivity, and safety. In essence, it’s a place designed for employees who want to escape a distraction-filled home and are looking for more in-person collaboration and socialization.

Improved Ventilation & Safer Indoor Air Quality

“Sick building syndrome” introduced Americans to health problems posed by an infected building. Now, with the pandemic, company executives are even more focused on fixing indoor air quality. Besides opening windows, office safety protocols include upgrading HVAC equipment, switching to MERV-13 hospital-grade air filters, and UV light filters. As Motili President and GM, Karl Pomeroy, explains: “Everyone from retailers to large, tenant-occupied property owners and operators are scrambling to meet consumer demand for improved air quality”7.

Contact-Free Workplace Amenities

As office managers think about reopening, contactless amenities are critical to employee safety. Consider these amenities as part of your reopening plan:

  • Installing Smart Lockers – With employees split between working in the office and working from home, there’s a pressing need for safe and secure package storage and retrieval – especially for essential work deliveries. A smart parcel locker system sends recipients a unique access code and/or a barcode to their smartphone, allowing for easy and safe package pickup with zero face-to-face interaction. In fact, it typically takes less than 10 seconds to retrieve a parcel with no signature required. Most importantly, workers can come to the office knowing they have a package versus interrupting building staff or unsafely “checking in” to see if their parcel has arrived. An often overlooked additional feature is that smart lockers can be used as safe storage systems for inter-office deliveries.
  • Adopting Keyless Building Entry – There’s an urgency to shift from physical key cards or keys to mobile access. A survey by HID estimated that 54% of businesses have upgraded or will upgrade to a mobile access control system within the next 3 years8.
  • Leveraging No-Touch Solutions – No-touch sensors are a prudent method for slowing the transfer of the coronavirus. Lights, doors, and paper towel dispensers can all be adapted to accommodate motion sensors.

With many offices still months away from reopening, now is the time to prepare for safely flinging open the office doors. Reconfiguring spaces, adopting new technology, and installing smart office lockers are critical.
The office environment will continue to evolve as we learn more about COVID-19. Don’t let package management problems add more stress to your plate. Save time and money by streamlining your package management process with a Parcel Pending by Quadient locker solution. Find a solution that is best for your office building here.
Sources:

  1. Pinker, Susan. “How You Feel Depends on Where You Are.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 9 July 2020, www.wsj.com/articles/how-you-feel-depends-on-where-you-are-11594311622. 
  2. Cutter, Chip. “Companies Start to Think Remote Work Isn’t So Great After All.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 24 July 2020, www.wsj.com/articles/companies-start-to-think-remote-work-isnt-so-great-after-all-11595603397
  3. Putzier, K. (2020, April 14). Co-Working Envisioned the Office of Tomorrow. Suddenly It Feels Like the Office of Yesterday. WSJ. https://www.wsj.com/articles/co-working-envisioned-the-office-of-tomorrow-suddenly-it-feels-like-the-office-of-yesterday-11586865601
  4. Rothstein, Matthew. “CRE Executives Make Their 2021 Predictions For The Industry.” Bisnow, 3 Jan. 2021, www.bisnow.com/national/news/commercial-real-estate/cre-execs-predict-2021-107224. 
  5. Rothstein, Matthew. “CRE Executives Make Their 2021 Predictions For The Industry.” Bisnow, 3 Jan. 2021, www.bisnow.com/national/news/commercial-real-estate/cre-execs-predict-2021-107224
  6. Mims, Christopher. “Goodbye, Open Office. Hello, ‘Dynamic Workplace.’.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 12 Sept. 2020, www.wsj.com/articles/goodbye-open-office-hello-dynamic-workplace-11599883273
  7. Rothstein, Matthew. “CRE Executives Make Their 2021 Predictions For The Industry.” Tango Analytics, 6 Jan. 2021, tangoanalytics.com/resources/bisnow-cre-executives-industry-predictions-2021/
  8. Gips, Michael. “Access Control Trends in 2021: The Future of Access Control.” Swiftlane, 2020, www.swiftlane.com/blog/the-future-of-access-control/#:~:text=In%202019%2C%20a%20survey%20by,in%20the%20next%203%20years.&text=Research%20firm%20IHS%20Markit%20has,rate%20between%202017%20and%202018