Office space used to be a relatively simple discussion: if you have 2,000 employees, you need just as many seats, desks, sockets, and basic storage facilities. Twenty-twenty changed everything, though -- with the development of remote work, companies can now give employees options for where they prefer to work. This has completely changed how businesses look at office space and offered them new ways to create an optimal working environment for their staff.
We have recently launched a podcast, Workplace Whiz, to help HR and Facility Managers navigate the wave of changes in recent years – and our first episode is dedicated precisely to the shifts that have occurred in offices since the dawn of 2020.
Let’s take a look at what Cosmin Patlageanu (Chief Marketing Officer) and Laurentiu Clenci (VP of Development and startup co-founder) discuss regarding the need for re-adjustments in the current office space, why it’s important, and what potential changes we're about to see in the future.
The Office Space Juggle -- Not a Game
Re-organizing the office space to fit today's needs is no simple feat. It can be an arduous process, especially if a business has to consider the many implications of doing so -- from downgrading (or upgrading) real estate to assigning resources to ensure this happens smoothly and maximizing savings as much as possible.
One thing's for sure, though: office spaces are more than just a matter of aesthetics or pure function. As people return to the office (in a higher or lower capacity, depending on the company's strategy) they need to feel safe, comfortable, and productive. But most importantly, the office space has grown to be a hub for social interactions and a place where employees can build relationships to collaborate better, be more productive, and ship better work.
The Employee-to-Desk Ratio: The Golden Rule of Modern Offices
A fascinating topic has been brought up in the podcast: how can growing companies ensure enough office space for their employees in a hybrid work model? The answer is straightforward: it's all about the employee-to-desk ratio -- the golden key to creating an efficient, safe, and comfortable office space. If you measure that two people use every desk, it means you constantly have to ensure there are at least half as many desks as employees in your company.
"It's simple math," Laurentiu says, "if the company has 2,000 desks left, and the employee-to-desk ratio is 1-to-2, it means they can continue to grow to 4,000 employees."
The Pivotal Years
It's no secret that 2020 changed how we view work, health, and well-being on a fundamental level -- from remote work policies to the need for more comfortable and ergonomic chairs. Over the past three years, organizations have gone through a rollercoaster of "massive shifts."
At first, the lockdowns forced everyone working in an office to move their work to their homes -- literally overnight. Empty offices were left prey to uncertainty and anxiety as an invisible enemy swept across the world.
Then, there was The Great Resignation. Working from home, and, likely, having more time to think about their priorities, people began re-evaluating their lives and moving away from jobs they no longer saw themselves in. This was the beginning of a massive workforce change: teams were broken, recruiters were left with even more work to do, and businesses had to re-strategize their entire approach to hiring, retaining, and loyalizing their workforce.
The Great Regret came soon after -- employees who left their jobs on the wave of the Great Resignation started to regret it. Grass didn't always turn up greener on the other side, so some of them began to look for ways to return back to the company where they'd left.
Quiet Quitting came as an alternative to calling it quits for good: as employees continued to be dissatisfied with their jobs, they decided to stay put, but simply go through the motions in order to get their paycheck.
Towards the end of 2022, tides started to change. Power went back into employers' hands, with layoffs and a potential economic downturn on the horizon, making more and more people re-consider their career options (and how they negotiate their packages.) At this point, the Great Return to the Office slowly started to take shape -- driven by a desire to go back to the office and be part of a team again and more importantly, feel safe in a clean environment.
Today, the focus lies on balancing employee and company needs, with hybrid work winning over full-remote and full-in-office models. To make hybrid work, Laurentiu suggests, you need the right tools -- you need to make sure you analyze your workplace data at a granular level and consider everything:
- The type of hybrid work model you want and can embrace
- Your company goal
- Employee retention and engagement
- What kind of incentive or support can you give employees to return to the office
The truth -- and the path forward -- lies in the data. At this point, making decisions based on hunches or surveys run outside of your company is not wise. Not only can it affect employee morale and retention, but it can be a very costly affair for your company. Bad decisions will eventually take a toll on your bank account, whether related to getting more office space or downsizing.
Any Full Return to Office in Sight?
Some companies are pushing for a full return to the office, but this will unlikely happen at scale. In his view, the hybrid work model will only continue to gain more power and adoption, as more businesses will want to give employees the best of both worlds: the flexibility and comfort of remote work, combined with the efficiency and social components involved in office work.
Predictions for the Future
No one can claim to know what's next, but some educated guesses on the future of work were presented in the podcast:
- The looming recession will likely impact office space sizes, remote/ hybrid work adoption, and the types of roles companies will be hiring for, as well as how much they'll want to grow over the next few years.
- The Great Resignation and quiet quitting will continue to impact both the workforce and employers. While not as strongly supported as they were in 2021 and part of 2022, these trends will shape the future of employment.
- Mandating returns to the office will become increasingly common, but as time goes by, it's unlikely employers will continue asking for specific remote days or impose very strict rules on their hybrid models. In fact, the future's looking optimistic from this point of view, with more flexibility down the line and higher adoption of more "free-form" hybrid models in the next five years.
To say things have changed would be the understatement of the century. In three years, the world went from forced remote work to resignations, layoffs, and, more recently, forced "return to work" -- but signs are pointing towards a more balanced approach. Things are still re-aligning and falling into place for now, but it will all be settled in neatly-organized approaches sooner, rather than later.
Change management in the context of hybrid management may not be as fun as a game of Tetris -- but Workplace Whiz will come back with a discussion on the details, challenges, and solutions Facility Manager and HRs have when moving to hybrid work.
Want to listen to the entire podcast and see what else was discussed (like, how much money companies can save by making a smart move to hybrid work, for example?)