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This year has brought on a sea of change in the way we work and interact in physical spaces. Real Strategy’s Office Transformation COVID-19 series has so far focused on rethinking what office space looks like by analyzing survey results and looking at the attitudes of people concerning remote work and their desire to return to the physical office. In doing so, we’ve also had to acknowledge the challenges and impacts that have come with the experience. Given our findings, let’s revisit how physical office space allocation might be re-envisioned as employee populations decrease and look at the type of construction and physical layouts we’re likely to see come about.

Organizational activity profiles

The calculation for an organization’s total needed office space will no longer be based on the number of people in the company multiplied by the amount of space needed per person. Instead, the calculation will be more akin to the average number of people expected in-office at a time and then solving for space based on the appropriate layout for that organization’s activity profile. This equation requires organizations to start analyzing their situations and produce this average rather than a simple sum total. Here’s a basic breakdown of the three major activity profiles for organizations and what the workpoint distribution might look like:

In addition to accounting for the necessary support and special-purpose areas, Real Strategy Advisors expects there to be a “crunch time” aspect to the equation where organizations will have to factor in additional space needed in the times of the year where it’s all hands on deck (e.g. seasonal peaks, larger project deliverables, etc.). We should recognize that there are likely to be more employees in the office than might typically be present during an average week. Even if an organization has an incredibly stable workflow, there’ll still be occasions where you want people in the office for social purposes if for no other reason than to strengthen and reinforce corporate culture. The science on activity profiles and shared workstations haven’t changed, we’re just going to see it manifest in a rebalancing of activity-based environments with a greater emphasis on flexible hours and remote-based work.

Focus Pod example (Source: Steelcase)

Talking office design

Since most current office space no longer reflects the needs of a more remote-based workforce, renovation (including construction, furniture, and new technology) will be required. When looking towards how offices might be redesigned, Real Strategy Advisors couldn’t think of a better local thought leader than the progressive architecture and design firm Linebox Studio. Responsible for Ottawa’s ultra-cool office space occupied by Shopify and Klipfolio, Linebox Studio looks to challenge conventions in all of its designs and projects, operating under a Quality of Space ethos — where all elements come together to make the space comfortable, functional, healthy and inspiring.

Lounge (with booth) example (Source: Haworth)

Real Strategy had a chance to talk with Melissa Reeves (COO) who told us how Linebox Studio starts with the basics like proper lighting, acoustic considerations, good furniture, desired points of interest, and biophilic design (i.e. nature in the workplace). The Quality of Space approach means thinking “less about going into an office and more about where employees can do their best work, which is different for everyone”.

How is Quality of Space manifested in an environment intended for work? On this question, Melissa commented that:

“Offices of the future will be more comfortable, like living rooms, but adapted for work. Tech considerations will become much more important as people need to plug-in and work from anywhere while also participating on frequent video calls.” — Melissa Reeves (COO, Linebox Studio)

Depending on the organizational profile present, you’ll begin to see an array of more open workpoints that serve these purposes like focus pods (for mid to long-term work that requires concentration), teaming areas (intended for collaborative group work and ideation), and lounges (with living room or café-style furniture for social interaction and more casual work). As a result, office spaces will be able to provide different workspaces that cater to the different tasks or work-style needs of their employees when in-office. The zone and activity-based approach also allows for better circulation patterns for the now paramount routine cleaning and disinfecting regimens.

Teaming Area example (Source: Herman Miller)

Satellite offices and shared business centres

Many smaller companies are going completely virtual and forgoing any office space decisions until the COVID-19 picture is more clear. Other companies are even considering hybrid office solutions like shared business centre spaces and satellite offices for organizations that span multiple locations. There’s the model that Innovative Professional Offices provides with a fully serviced and furnished business centre for example. Their space provides tenants with two floors of meeting rooms, individual offices, and suites with access to a reception area, kitchens, mailroom, and bilingual staff.

“We have pivoted to a “Hybrid Office Solution” model that combines private office space with access to video-conference equipped meeting rooms. We feel that this type of offering responds to what many businesses will be looking for when planning their return to work.” — Mike Wallace (General Manager, Innovative Professional Offices)

We had the chance of discussing this approach with a company that’d actually done it when we caught up with Aja Butler George, the Director of Marketing at Foko Retail. When Real Strategy enquired what the driving reasons to ditch the permanent office space for a month-to-month collaborative space were, Aja noted with COVID-19 and so many people working from home that:

“It didn’t make sense for us to keep a long term physical office space. However, for lots of people on our team and especially those with kids, working from home all the time wasn’t an ideal solution and so we started to look for a way to accommodate a flexible working arrangement. Some wanted to come into an office regularly, while others were happy to work from home all the time.” — Aja Butler George (Director of Marketing, Foko Retail)

Renting a month-to-month collaboration space at Spaces Laurier was ultimately the “ideal solution” for Foko Retail because of its short-term commitment and the flexibility it provided team members who all exhibited different needs. Without the luxury of having people being in the same physical workspace however, where the significant amount of time and proximity shared helps create and grow relationships more organically, companies will have to put time and effort into fostering their culture in other ways says Aja.

(Source: Spaces)

“Lots of companies who used to take culture for granted as a natural byproduct of working together in-office are now having to be much more intentional and purposeful about building it. Team culture is something that companies now have to build a strategy around and invest in.” — Aja Butler George (Director of Marketing, Foko Retail)

What Real Strategy Advisors has shown throughout this series is that businesses everywhere are reconsidering how they use space. All indicators point to decreasing demand which results in an increase in office vacancy. Decreased demand inevitably puts downward pressure on rental rates and increases tenant-friendly inducements. Real Strategy Advisors has already observed a surging sublease market and, this time, the federal government will not be coming to the market’s rescue. In fact, based on recent statements from Real Property (PSPC) at the Ottawa Real Estate Forum, there is still an overall plan to reduce the government’s office portfolio for the foreseeable future.

Contact Real Strategy Advisors today so we can discuss your organization’s remote work policies, employee experiences, and what your calculation for physical office space looks like. We can also consult on workplace strategy so your office culture doesn’t suffer under the “new normal”. We’ll use real data from your company to come up with a custom tailored solution made for you!