What is the future for office space?

A couple of assumptions that could carry through even after the Covid-19 crisis ends.

1) Work from home is here to stay
2) Some employees can’t or won’t want to work from home
3) Physical locations facilitate community, strategy, and passive knowledge sharing

With those assumptions, what does the office of the future look like?

If companies as divergent as Morgan Stanley and Zillow can acknowledge that a distributed workforce is feasible, that means a lot of other companies can come to the same conclusions. There will still be a need for headquarters locations, R&D facilities, data centers, etc, but do companies need a huge office in the CBD of every city in the United States? Or can they take smaller offices that are close to their employees, minimizing commuting times while reducing footprint and overall spend?

What if instead of taking 50,000 square feet in Manhattan, a company took five 5,000 square foot locations in the suburbs along with a 15,000 square foot location in the city? They would reduce their overall footprint, shrink rental expense, and shorten commute times for employees that didn’t live in the city. Employees would have the option to work from home, go to the office as necessary, all while maintaining a connection to their team and their employer. Employers would be able to recruit from all geographies and still provide access to an office in addition to remote working.

The interesting thing is that this immediately solves for the desire for social distancing in the short term as well as solving for other long-term facilities objectives. It addresses immediate concerns around dense offices and mass transportation. In the longer term, it allows people to have the flexibility to work wherever they want, lowers carbon footprints as commute times get shorter, and reduces cost.

I don’t think demand for office space is vanishing forever. Humans are social creatures and working from home full time isn’t feasible for most people. Its a challenge for employers as they lose opportunities for spontaneous collaboration and building company culture. It also puts an enormous burden on managers to keep a distributed team organized and focused.

But I not in the “office space is coming back stronger than ever” camp. The world evolves. Offices don’t look like they did 40 years ago. Why would we assume that they’ll stop evolving now?

W’ve seen that remote work is feasible. Technology is only going to get better. And the suggestion that this is the last crisis that will require a distributed workforce is naïve. Whether its a virus, some sort of natural disaster, or anything else, risk mitigation suggests that having a flexible workforce will minimize operational disruptions.

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