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June 1, 2020

Work from home may be here to stay after pandemic

Journal Staff Reporter

Image provided by Gensler/Ryan Gobuty [enlarge]
Gensler’s research has shown at-home workers most miss collaborating and socializing with colleagues, but those who return to the office should expect social distancing initially.

About half of U.S. office workers surveyed by Gensler who switched to working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic want to continue at home at least one day a week, the global architecture firm said.

Twenty-six percent want to work from home one or two days; 18% want to three or four days; and 12% want to work there all the time.

Kristin Jensen, co-managing director of Gensler's Seattle office, said that in the pandemic companies have adopted incredible virtual collaboration tools, and while office space is important for work, it's less critical for every employee to be there.

“There are going to be more opportunities to work from home” long-term, she said.

Jensen said Genlser expects employees that find it essential to be in the office will be the first to return in what should be a phased approached to reopening.

On day one, she said, expect a health screening at the door, temperature taking, masks in public areas, more spread-out workstations, limited occupancy in meeting rooms and in tight quarters, such as elevators and lobbies.

That will likely remain in place until there's more of an indication that COVID-19 cases won't spike again or we get a reliable vaccine, said Jensen.

Gensler's online, anonymous panel-based survey was conducted April 16 to May 4. It involved around 2,300 U.S. full-time employees at companies of 100 or more who worked in an office prior to the pandemic and were then working from home. Responses were evenly distributed across 10 industries and represent a range of seniority levels, roles, ages and geographies across the U.S.

Employees were asked which changes would make them comfortable returning to the office. They said stricter policies against coming in sick (55%), increased office cleaning (50%), more distance between workstations (35%), hand sanitizer provided (35%), touchless bathroom fixtures/doors (33%), air purification system (31%), fewer face-to-face meetings (23%), more private offices (22%), more defined private space (21%) and workstations eliminated (19%). Fifty-two percent also want increased opportunities to work from home (52%).

More older employees working from home than younger ones reported feeling accomplished at the end of the day: 25% of the millennial/Gen Z workers said they got less work done at home than in the office; 20% of Gen X said so; and 16% of the baby boomers felt that way.

Gensler has come up with design approaches to increase the comfort of those who return to the office:

Design with antimicrobial materials: Developers of office buildings can retrofit existing lobbies with antimicrobial technology, a practice widely used in the healthcare sector.

Improve air quality: Investment in air-cleaning systems are an efficient way to reduce airborne and surface contaminants while delivering energy saving benefits. Seventy-five percent of indoor air in office buildings is recirculated and filtered, meaning it's already been breathed by other occupants.

Leverage automation and voice activation to limit skin contact: That could minimize touch points and limit the chance of contact exposure to germs.

Integrate sensor technology to screen visitors: Employ design features that contribute to a healthier office building such as Infrared Fever Screening Systems.

De-densify the office layout: Create a workplace floor plan that allows for flexibility of workstations and directional traffic flow to meet recommended standards as situations change.

Explore different ways of working: Embrace more virtual collaboration platforms and tools and use the office as more of a source of culture and connection than just the daily workplace.

Jensen said the changes might include computers that start up with facial recognition, monitors that come on when you enter a conference room and know the settings you like, plexiglass barriers, and workstations that can be moved, with power brought down from the ceiling rather than coming from the floor.

Gensler is working with Puget Sound-area clients who are considering adapting their work spaces, and hearing from some developers and investors who want all their new buildings to focus on health and wellness, Jensen said.

Jensen called the pandemic a wake-up call on how buildings and workspaces need to be more resilient in general, and in particular: “We don't know if this thing is going to come back.”

Her firm's research has shown at-home workers most miss collaborating and socializing with colleagues, she said.

Fifty-four percent of those recently surveyed ranked scheduled meetings with colleagues, socializing with them and impromptu face-to-face interaction as the most important reasons for wanting to return to the office.

In the future, Jensen said, instead of being packed with workstations, offices may have more spaces to collaborate, engage and create, and areas to patch in with colleagues working remotely.

With more people working from home, offices could get smaller — but providing distancing and that engagement space could counter that, Jensen said. She said she expects “we're going to arrive somewhere where we are now” in how much space is leased.


Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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