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The Post-Pandemic Workplace: Why Come Back?

29 April 2020

Through research, client conversations, and a detailed survey of our 55-person workforce, we’ve begun to uncover a few responses to these questions. First: There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Second – and fortunately – we’ve all had some time to reflect on what the quarantining experience reveals about company culture. And while the situation is still unfolding, we believe organizations that start asking themselves key questions now can build a foundation for better workplace approaches in coming months and years.

So, what questions should we be asking ourselves now to understand why people might come back to the office some day? For a start, consider these:

  • How effectively are people working from home? Are you sure you know the unvarnished truth? To confirm your hunches, or throw them out altogether, surveys and focus groups help take a pulse. Dyer Brown asked employees in a comprehensive April survey and almost a third (30%) said their productivity has gone up, while 44% said output remains about the same. While many miss their coworkers and the enjoyment of office life, 52% stated that the number of daily interruptions have decreased while at home. Even within the group that indicated more distractions at home, many noted lack of childcare as the primary distraction, and they expected that to change when schools reopen. Use this time as an opportunity investigate what is working, or not, and why, in order to inform a long-term work from home policy.
  • How will you provide a workspace that feels as safe and comfortable as people's home office? Will there be options for where they can sit to alleviate any anxiety they have about being too close to others? Can employees ‘opt out’ of in-person meetings by calling in, even while they are physically in the office? Can smaller meeting rooms be used by individuals for heads down work instead of small groups? Now is the time to evaluate strategies such as reconfigured workstations, touchless entry points and one-way traffic patterns, so that when it’s time to implement, you are prepared.

As a next step, consider the reasons that people will venture back to their shared primary offices and workplaces. If they trust their company is taking precautions and not unnecessarily putting people at risk, most will return back in the long term. As human beings, we crave connection – with family, friends and colleagues – and the workplace offers that. Dyer Brown’s survey asked what people missed most about going to the office, and 72% of the responses listed coworkers and in-person interactions. The shared physical experience can’t always be simulated with screen-based meetings or phone calls. When colleagues can’t see each other, read body language, and sense the energy of the room, a sense of connection inevitably falters. Even as a large portion of our interactions remain virtual for the foreseeable future, in-person gatherings will inevitably return.

On the other hand, consider a few reasons that people may NOT venture back to their shared primary offices and workplaces. Notably, expect that employees won’t decide to return to the physical office just so they will be more productive. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that a large majority of white-collar workers are, in fact, able to work from home in some capacity, and productivity alone is a weak argument for requiring 100% of time to be spent in the office.

Other reasons not to return to the shared workplace include fears or anxieties about possible infections from returning to work too soon. This worry is magnified for high-risk individuals and those who live with them. Related to the above, some workers understandably lack trust in the approaches their companies and colleagues are taking – or might take.

So, what should workplace owners and decision makers do? Friday, our colleague Rachel Woodhouse will pick up the conversation with our return-to-work philosophies and the thought process behind it.

Post authored by

Ashley L. Dunn AIA
Associate Principal | Director of Workplace
Dyer Brown Architects

Karen Bala AIA LEED AP
Director of Design
Dyer Brown Architects

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