After 15 months of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, some companies are beginning to bring remote workers back into the office. Others—most notably in Silicon Valley—have decided that remote culture is here to stay. Most companies, however, are still weighing their options, and for good reason.The landscape of the post-Covid office is still an open question. On May 12, Industrious, a coworking and private office space company, hosted a webinar on how the workplace is being reimagined post-Covid to fit employees’ evolving needs. The panel consisted of Anna Levine, Industrious’ Chief Commercial Officer, as well as Brian Chen, Co-Founder & CEO of ROOM, a company that designs innovative soundproof phone booths and office pods, and Andrew Kupiec, President of Agile Real Estate & Experience Services at CBRE.
One key takeaway from the session is that most companies are still very much in the planning stages, exploring various options for their post-Covid office culture. “Companies are feeling pressure to figure out what to do next, but most of the Fortune 1000 is still in the advisory phase,” Andrew Kupiec said.
Anna Levine of Industrious encouraged listeners to open up a dialogue between management and employees. “I think we’re all feeling a lot different than we did 15 months ago–tired, blah, whatever you want to call it. It’s better to have an honest dialogue about how much uncertainty we’re still dealing with, rather than pretending we have all the answers right now. Embracing it, acknowledging it, and talking about how it’s hard is the first step.”
One major consideration companies face is the increased costs of a physical workspace that can accommodate all of their employees, five days a week. (Should they choose to return to that version of “normal.”) ROOM’s Brian Chen didn’t mince words: “The current state of the world is a cap x (capital expenditure) crisis, because it’s hard for people to justify the expense.”
Complicating the issue is the need to retrofit offices with new air filtration systems and more spaced out workstations, not to mention new soundproof spaces that are suitable for videoconferencing. “There are post-Covid operational costs for buildings that aren’t ever going away and need to be built into the budget,” Kupiec said.
“Companies who are most ahead of the curve on this aren’t thinking about capital expenditure, but are instead thinking about employee happiness and productivity,” said Levine.
Relationships with your manager and other employees aren’t just about being within the same four walls, there are a lot of complex factors that come into play. “We have hundreds of employees in 60 cities across the country,” Levine said. “Culture becomes a product of so much more than conversations you have in the office. Also, it’s important to consider individual motivations for coming into the office vs. working from home, because this can be deeply personal.”
Chen agreed that the issue is hardly cut and dried. “A lot of companies are conducting surveys, and that’s great, but what many return-to-work plans are missing is a fierce, in-person debate. There are a lot of passionate opinions around this issue.”
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