What will happen to offices after the pandemic?

How the concept of hubs & clubs can help you decide what to do with offices.

November 09, 2020

We are in the next phases of a pandemic that has brought a lot of changes at the labor level, as well as a lot of concern and questions related to the ways of working and real estate. What will happen to the offices? Will remote work be a permanent reality? How will the work change? Is it necessary to invest in improving remote work? What will happen to the offices? Will they cease to exist?

As consultants specialized in office spaces, new ways of working, and optimization of the use of space, everyone asks us these questions. While for some years, we have seen different trends in how offices would change and had begun to imagine the future of work, the current situation represents a metamorphosis. In the sense of the future of work, it has been a novel change (for example, the focus on health and prevention of infections) and, in others, it represents an advance that in another context would have taken years to develop (the adoption of remote work). It has led us to rethink the role of consulting in workspaces trying to integrate all these changes and reformulate the equation that defines the variables to take into account to achieve an optimal balance, and thus develop the model of an “ideal office.”

What will happen to the offices?

Before the pandemic, there were many reasons to be in the office. The scheduled collaboration and spontaneous meetings; the opportunity to socialize and interact with colleagues and friends; the sharing of wins, celebrations, and birthdays; have a few minutes of casual conversation or an extended lunch. Feeling united and have a sense of belonging to a community.

In other cases, going to the office was simply a requirement, proof that we were fulfilling our responsibilities and tasks. Sometimes, that demand for the face-to-face time was the permanent reality for companies that weren't willing to allow working from home. Sometimes it was cultural, the feeling that it was necessary to be together under one roof to carry out the activities.

So the offices will disappear? Many workers wanted to have a more flexible work life to balance it with the personal one and their responsibilities. Now the rules have dramatically changed. Forced to suddenly work from home and for a long time, many former office workers come to realize that there are things they miss out while working form home.

The key point is that offices are not going to disappear, but they are not going to be the same. Nor will remote work cease to exist, and we will all return to the offices as if nothing has happened.

At this very moment, companies throughout the world and all industries are wondering what "the office" means to their employees, to their business, to their culture: what their ideal office model should look like. To develop the ideal office model, we believe it is necessary to reinvent offices, re-imagine them, and redefine their use. We need to rethink what types of spaces are mandatory in the office, based on the activities performed.

While remote work is not going to go away, on the contrary, it will remain for many workers, it is important to accept the fact that constant meetings in Teams and Zoom are poor substitutes for human interaction. People will continue to need places where they can meet, connect, build relationships, and develop their careers in a different way than they did before the pandemic.

Thus, what we miss out without offices is the opportunity to socialize with colleagues and clients, identify with our teams, and not lose the momentum of ideas and innovation. At JLL, we visualize the future of offices under a model that we call: Hubs & Clubs.

Hubs & clubs or what offices will look like soon

The metaphor of "club" means an eclectic space, with privacy, exclusivity, and meeting as a final objective. The "clubs" are places of the union, where internal as well as client meetings are organized. The "clubs" would be characterized by having a central location and representing the parent companies of a company, as well as prioritize collaborative, multi-functional spaces aimed at encouraging teamwork as opposed to the old days of individual work.

The office design would be aiming at improving social interaction, supporting knowledge sharing, while promoting a company's brand and identity. Some examples of spaces that companies will include in their future "clubs" are the brainstorming areas, collaborative living rooms for meetings with clients, flexible and reconfigurable spaces, which incentivize team bonding.

The hubs, whose translation in Spanish could be "nodes", are alternative spaces for employees to use within the options offered by a new work model where the focus is on the choice. Nodes provide an opportunity to leave home and return to the office without necessarily going to the parent houses. They can be located outside the central or commercial areas, or they can be coworking spaces. These "hubs" offer a variety of spaces to work individually with the same comfort and ergonomics that we find in the main offices. At the same time, they are spaces that are located near the homes of employees, allowing them to avoid travel times and getting stuck in traffic jams, that are often heavy in cities such as Bogota, Lima, or Mexico City.

In the case of Latin America, this new working model is presented as a more than favorable option to accelerate the future of offices in the region. While there are many challenges in the short and medium-term, the model brings many benefits to it. Among the latter, we find the acceleration of remote work, which leads to an increase in employee satisfaction and the balance between work and personal life. Regarding the challenges, each company will need to consider the local regulations of their country regarding telework law. Also, you should take into account that each employee is different, and therefore their needs are also different. There will be those who, due to physical and spatial issues (lack of natural light, small spaces) will not be able to work from their homes repeatedly and others who, due to their role or tasks, will have to perform their function from the office. On the other hand, in many countries, the network of flexible spaces is under development, so the closeness of employees to this option can be a challenge in the short term. The key in this sense, and the first step, is to go to a more flexible culture where the possibility of working in other spaces apart from the office is considered: cafes, bookstores, libraries, among others, what is known as “the third space.” Perhaps when we decide to return to the office, it will be on new and much more flexible terms, and with renewed recognition for the unique options, it will have to offer. What we can learn from this experience and when comparing pre-pandemic life, is that the goal should be the same, but now with a reinforced effect: to seek positive experiences for employees, where people can get the best in terms of well-being, health, and work-life balance while achieving optimal performance.