Pre-pandemic, planning an office space often meant finding a balance between workplace strategists’ aim of fostering collaboration and employee experiences with the CFO’s desire to maximize the number of people per square foot. That could be tricky, but not nearly as complicated as figuring out how to populate an office positively in an age of social distancing.
I touched on this subject in yesterday’s post, “Ask the Algorithm: Who Returns to the Office When?
” As I shared from Michael Colacino, president of real estate brokerage SquareFoot
, the perennial trend of office densification has landed many companies in a precarious position today: Too many workers vying for too few spots. De-densification is going to be the new trend (whether the CFO likes it or not).
Besides getting smarter about divvying up office resources, as I described in that previous post, spreading workers throughout satellite offices is a logical extension of COVID-19 office planning, Colacino said. By his way of thinking, satellite offices have the same sorts of benefits that people have come to enjoy in this extended period of working from home: workday flexibility and reduced commute. On top of that, a satellite office saves people from coming into direct contact with multitudes of coworkers — “an essential part of real strategies for COVID,” he said.
Colacino isn’t alone in thinking office real estate of the future is going to have to involve satellite locations. Fast Company explored this same idea earlier this week in a piece about the emerging hub-and-spoke model for office space. Sheila Botting, with commercial real estate company Avison Young, is quoted in that piece as saying, “‘Many corporate occupiers are saying let’s have a downtown hub, and suburban west, east and north spokes so that people can have their office close to their home if and when they want to go to the office.’”
While some companies may view this type of model as a way to save money by reducing spending on pricey downtown real estate, Colacino expressed hope that companies won’t use COVID-19 as an impetus to shut down any office outright. Office planning around COVID-19 restrictions is almost an insoluble problem for many companies, he said, but in many cases, closing offices isn’t going to be the best solution.
Being in the real estate business, he puts it in terms of square footage: A rule of thumb is 10x spending on people compared to real estate on a square-foot basis. So, given today’s safety requirements, plus the importance modern business places on productivity and happiness — i.e., that positive employee experience — “doesn’t it make sense to spend a little bit more on the real estate so people can be happy and productive?” Colacino asked, rhetorically.
We’ve seen many companies invest in making “spectacular spaces” to draw in a desired workforce, and keep them happy and productive once hired, he said. “That conclusion hasn’t been lost. It’s still important to do that.”