The coronavirus chronicles: What will the post-pandemic office look like?

WITH things slowly reopening, there will definitely be changes in working arrangements as WFH workers prepare to go back to office life.  But what kind of office will they be going back to post-pandemic?

It will be good to keep in mind that the modern office as we know it now, “was created after World War II, on a military model—strict hierarchies, created by men for men, with an assumption that there is a wife to handle duties at home,” Joanne Lipman shares with us in a Time Magazine article, The Great Reopening.

But, she adds, “after years of gradual change in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, there is a growing realization that the model is broken…For many, this has become a moment to literally define what is work?”

Business leaders have approached this challenge in different ways.  She notes that “tech firms including Twitter, Dropbox, Shopify, and Reddit are allowing all employees the option to work permanently, while oil company Phillips 66 brought back most staff to Houston headquarters almost a year ago.”

In the financial industry, “titans like Blackstone, JP Morgan, and Goldman Sachs expect employees to back on site this summer.  JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon recently declared that remote work wasn’t for those who want to hustle. It doesn’t work in terms of spontaneous idea generation.”

Lipman points out that while business models have evolved through the years—“conglomerates in the 1960s, junk bonds in the ‘80s, tech in the 00s,—the workplace structure, of office cubicles and face time has remained the same.”

And it’s a good time to let creative ideas flow.

Hamid Hashemi, the chief product and experience officer at coworking space company WeWork, agrees “it’s time to say goodbye to the familiar idea of an office—a single, static space with assigned desks, aging technology, and a bias towards employees who commute five days a week.”

He is quoted by Sophie Downes in an Inc.com article For a Glimpse of the Post-Pandemic Office, Take a Look at WeWork’s New Design Plans saying that “the concept of headquarters in the way we’re all used to it—I don’t think it’s going to exist in the future.”

In describing how the company is transforming its 800 plus locations around the world, Hashemi says that the post-pandemic office will incorporate two elements: flexibility and collaboration.

Flexibility

Hashemi says that WeWork is designing its new spaces to be modular. They’ll include freestanding private offices, complete with air quality sensors and noise sensors, which can be built or disassembled in a single day.

“Think of it as Lego pieces,” he says.

WeWork has also displayed flexibility in the way it deals with its clients, allowing them to rent offices and even individual desks for any length of time—not just on an annual basis.  It also introduced “all-access” memberships that let people work from any of its locations for a flat monthly fee.

 Collaboration

While Hashemi believes that videoconferencing services like Zoom aren’t conducive, he acknowledges that it is here to stay. That is why they will be integrating these effectively into in-person meetings.

With this, he says WeWork is adding larger screens on the walls of its conference rooms and more cameras on the tables.  Each room can also be rearranged into a classroom setup. WeWork is even rolling out holographic technology at its locations to let organizations host global evens “without having to cram hundreds of people into one building.”

He adds that the office of the future “might also incorporate more of the activities that workers previously did before and after work.”  At WeWork spaces, “each lobby or ‘center of gravity’ is being turned into a marketplace with extras like food delivery areas, laundry facilities, and Amazon lockers.” Those marketplaces will be open to everyone who works in the same building, not just WeWork members.

All in all, Hashemi says that the pandemic “presents an opportunity for companies to rethink not only their physical offices, but also their entire approach to work.

Indeed, so much has happened since the modern office was created after World War II on a military model. Technology, the open office concept,  the growing importance of life/work balance, WFH arrangements, and the limitations presented by the pandemic have shown us that the workplace has to be transformed.

“Crisis is good,” says Hashemi. “It’s a time when you can reinvent yourself and take a really hard look at things that you do, and you prepare yourself for the future.”

PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association (Ipra), the world’s premier association for senior professionals around the world. Millie Dizon, the senior vice president for Marketing and Communications of SM, is the former local chairman.

We are devoting a special column each month to answer the reader’s questions about public relations.  Please send your comments and questions to askipraphil@gmail.com.

Image courtesy of WWW.FREEPIK.COM
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