What do office workers want when returning to the workplace, and how will this impact future office space? Here’s what JLL found

by Brianna Crandall — August 26, 2020 — Employee health and workplace hygiene are top considerations for companies reentering the workplace and are playing a pivotal role in shaping occupational density trajectory, according to a new report from global real estate and professional services firm JLL. Employees want to see re-designed spaces dedicated to health and collaboration when they return to the office. Employers are looking to new technologies to enhance office environments as COVID-19 has put into question the appeal of highly dense, large, open-plan offices, although JLL analysis has confirmed a continued need for office spaces as gathering points.

Research on the months of mass working from home has brought clarity on the reasons for commuting to the office, says JLL. Offices encourage collaboration, innovation, mentoring and team building — all things that technology struggles to replicate. In fact, the same JLL survey found that 58% of office workers missed the office, with younger cohorts — those 35 and under — showing an even stronger desire to return (65%). Human interaction and socializing with colleagues were the most missed element of the office (44%), followed by collective face-to-face work (29%) according to the  survey.

A survey by Gensler found only 12% of workers want to work from home full-time, and 70% say they want to spend most of their week in the office. Meetings, socializing and impromptu face-to-face interactions with colleagues were ranked as the top reasons people wanted to head back into the office.

While the upward trend in office density has sharply reversed as social distancing is adhered to, once a vaccine or effective treatment is available, JLL predicts the extreme de-densification levels seen on initial re-entry to ease back (but certainly not all the way) to pre-COVID-19 levels. But one thing’s for certain, the office itself will look very different, says JLL.

According to a post-COVID workplace survey by Big Red Rooster, a JLL company, 94 percent of employees want the option to return to the physical office, indicating that remote work should augment, not replace, traditional office spaces. The same survey found that out of workplaces, restaurants, and retail locations, respondents trust workplaces the most in terms of safety, reaffirming a positive outlook for the future of office demand.

Employee well-being is at the center of office modifications underway.  Desks spaced six feet apart will become table stakes, along with added physical barriers, improved air filtration systems and one-way traffic flow signage.

Reinforce safety with purposeful choreography of the space

JLL offices spaces layout graphic

Graphic courtesy JLL. Click to enlarge.

Aaron Spiess, executive vice president and founder at Big Red Rooster, stated:

We can never fully go back to the way we were before. Success is reimagining a workplace where employees can return and flourish. Though they will not feel “normal” right away, safety measures should be thoughtfully programmed. The right precautions in place will offer employees confidence in their return to work.

Big Red Rooster is currently working with companies to promote health and well-being through materials and design, positioning workstations to maximize natural light, incorporating naturally antimicrobial materials in furniture, and installing private nooks for mental breaks with calming colors and scents.

Promote health and well-being through materials and design

Smart technologies are also redefining “me space” vs. “we space” through touch-free options at common contact points, including mobile apps that control lighting, temperature and audiovisual (AV) equipment, as well as doors and elevators that open with corporate badges instead of a handle, and touchless sanitation stations that dispense hand sanitizer. As companies look to de-densify former meeting spaces to maintain social distancing, mobile apps will also offer employees the option to reserve their own space or receive visitor alerts directly to their phone.

JLL office spaces changes graphic

Graphic courtesy JLL. Click to enlarge.

On the other hand, post-COVID office spaces will go beyond physical design and technological innovation, driving interactions and tasks that technology cannot replicate. A recent survey from employment platform Monster found that over two-thirds of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home, indicating the positive effects the away-from-home and in-person work experience can have on mental health.

Todd Burns, president, Project and Development Services, JLL Americas, predicted:

The office will shift to become less about sitting in a desk all day and more so as a safe place for colleagues to collaborate, engage and interact. For some, it will be key to their emotional wellness in such unprecedented times.

As part of its commitment to fostering an enduring culture of health and well-being, JLL recently announced two programs to enable safer, healthier workplaces. Healthcare diagnostics company LabCorp’s Employer Services division will offer wellness screenings for clients across the US, and inspection and certification company SGS will verify the cleaning procedures and protocols of clients around the world.

JLL’s report on the future of global office demand is available from the JLL website upon registration.

See also another new JLL report, The Impact of COVID-19 on Flexible Space, which outlines the future of flexible space both now and long after the pandemic subsides. The report indicates that flexible space will take a different form than it has in the past but will continue to grow as corporates and investors alike respond to the increasing demand for flexibility. In fact, JLL research still predicts that 30 percent of all office space will be consumed flexibly by 2030.