covid-19, workplace design:
Navigating a return to work
Is the traditional office obsolete? Is working from home the new norm? Is there a generational shift at play propelling us forwards? Our Senior Account Director Katya Ginsberg shares some of the insights from our client Unispace.
With Australia and New Zealand now ahead of the COVID-19 curve and other nations looking to the Trans-Tasman bubble for benchmark business solutions as the world starts to gingerly reopen, global workplace experts Unispace are championing a new office model to help businesses navigate their return-to-work roadmaps.
The strategy, build and design firm has developed a hybrid framework that coalesces the benefits of the collaborative office hub with the merits of one’s home for focused work – coined the Propeller Workplace.
The Propeller Workplace
Last year, a survey undertaken by 237 of Unispace’s clients, including ANZ Bank, Optus, Coca Cola, EY and Deloitte, concluded that businesses across the globe are looking for workplace solutions that improve employee retention, inspire collaboration and knowledge sharing, and normalise the true definition of flexible working.
The Propeller framework does just this; it encourages employees to seek out their place of work due to its culture and curated experiences, while also enabling employees to do their best work at home or close-to home in personalised spaces devoid of distractions.
This year, Unispace predicts that employees who are unable to work from home will adopt the ‘hub and close-to-home’ hybrid model which will see pop-up desks emerging in fringe commercial precincts available for booking online so that workers can avoid a lengthy commute while still reaping the benefits of a defined workspace.
For businesses, it is now about creating office environments that employees gravitate towards because of the curated, collaborative, and social experience it offers. Moving forwards, it is likely that the office will be seen as a complement to home-based working which will be used for concentration, learning and recharging.
As a result, office design will inevitably change, from occupancy levels in meetings rooms to a reduction in the number of single desks. This might mean a reduction in real estate for some and a redistribution and reinvestment in space for others to create a destination workplace centred around collaboration and enhanced technology.
Using predictive analytics
Global workplace experts Unispace have also developed a predictive analytics tool that models expected occupancy levels across different industries to help inform future workplace usage.
The tool leverages 3.2 million data points from the Bureau of Labour Statistics to help businesses decipher how their workforce will return to the office and on what basis. The tool is able to forecast the specifics of how many people can be expected back (i.e. headcount), when and how often they’ll be in the office and as a result, the spatial requirements of the office down to the square metre. It is customisable to different market sectors and uses an algorithm to produce augmented workplace data to help inform business decisions.
Across all industries, Unispace’s predictive analytics suggests 37% of the workforce will continue WFH 3+ days a week, even once a vaccine is readily available.
Some other high-level insights include:
- 40% of workers will work from home up to three days a week from 2021
- 20-60% percent of the workforce will continue to work remotely as a result of COVID-19 protocols
- 10-30% of office space will remain unoccupied (in addition to the 40-50% that was already typically unoccupied)
- Therefore, at any given time in future, a workpoint could remain unoccupied 60-80% of the time
The year of the pilot
While 2020 was the year of the survey, Unispace says 2021 is the year of the pilot – time to test new workplace concepts, draw people back into the office and measure performance to validate the new purpose of the office.
But with businesses re-examining how office space is occupied and looking to restructure space to accommodate an agile workforce, one of the biggest ‘return to work’ challenges that Unispace has identified is the power balance between physical and virtual collaboration.
In a post-COVID workforce it is no longer just about collaboration; it is about blended and inclusive collaboration to create a level playing field both at work and at home.
Customer feedback confirms that employees often feel disenfranchised when they enter videos calls inhabited by a large group of office-based team members, and even more challenging is deciphering how two or more groups operate harmoniously on Team’s Meetings in the same space at the same time.
As workplace experts, Unispace is committed to resolving these workplace semantics and rectifying the various power dynamics and nuances at play so that businesses can effectively champion inclusive collaboration techniques and triage physical and digital collaboration this year and beyond.
First to rise out of COVID-19, Auckland presented Unispace with an opportunity to administer its turnkey methodology to itself and deliver a post-Covid workplace at pace to showcase its industry-leading Propeller framework for clients and prospective customers alike.
In a nod to effective blended collaboration, the newly built Unispace Auckland studio features custom-designed video conferencing ‘Teams’ pods with high-performing acoustic treatment and technology capabilities that operate as a cost-effective alternative to built-in meeting rooms. These pods enable two or more groups to work uninhibited in the same space at the same time, as does the room booking system, desk and room occupancy sensors, 52 ergonomic work points, and open space technology that empowers employees to work to their potential, anywhere.
Riding the wave
Unispace asserts that the user (employee) and visitor (client) experience are important influencers in productivity, culture and wellness, and initiatives such as hospitality offerings, social events, and wellness activities can take the workplace experience to the next level. More so, the office space is reflective of the values that an organisation offers its users and can be leveraged as a strategic asset to encourage employees to return to work in 2021.
But for now, it is about riding the COVID-19 wave together and redefining flexible work for future generations.
One thing that is for sure, the office is here to stay.
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