Research

What will the workplace of the future look like in a post-COVID-19 world?

Preparing for re-entry

May 22, 2020

As many of us work from our home offices, one thing has become abundantly clear throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: how important working together in a physical space is for the quality and innovation. But we have to rethink how we are going to keep our spaces and employees safe during re-entry.

JLL Research Director Christian Beaudoin sits down with James Cook to talk conference tables and lunch rooms in the post-COVID world.


[0:00:00-0:00:59] [James Cook]

What will office workers need in a post covid-19 world? That's the question that we're going to tackle today. This is building places where we look at the world of commercial real estate Through The Eyes of the experts that study it every day. My name is James Cook. I research real estate for jll today. I'm talking to one of the authors of a new report that investigates this question about the future of office work.

[Christian Beaudoin]

I am Christian Beaudoin. Director, Research & Strategy at JLL based in Chicago

[James Cook]

Do me a favor just for fun take me back to two months ago. What was your work? What was your office experience like then compared to what it's like today.

[Christian Beaudoin]

So two months ago. I worked full-time in the office and my personal Arrangement is a desk sit-stand desk in the office. [0:00:59-0:01:59] Open plan environment and completely open space. So no cellular office, but dedicated cubicle.

 [James Cook]

 So do you have a dedicated cubicle at home?

[Christian Beaudoin]

I don’t, unless you count my dining room table, which is what I've kind of settled into as my favorite place to work over the last couple of weeks. It is me and my older daughter is here with me and she's my office calls all day.

[James Cook]

So you still have co-workers good for you? So we know it was like yesterday. We know what we're all going through today. The big question is what happens to the to office workers tomorrow.

[Christian Beaudoin]

There’s not one uniform tomorrow. There's not going to be a switch that we flip and we all go back to work as normal. This will be a very gradual and different process by city, by region, by country and by industry and by company.

[James Cook]

One of the trends that you know, we've been talking about for years now is about the densification of the typical office. [0:01:59-0:02:59] space and office square feet per employee shrinking for years

[Christian Beaudoin]

Certainly, in the short-term will see a flattening of that reduction and perhaps a return even. In fact, over the last couple of years we were even starting to see a return in square footage per person numbers those were starting to tick up again even pre-covid-19. The reason for that initial growth was a focus on amenities and shared spaces and common spaces as well. We get the indication from our largest tenant clients that there will be an increase in space allocated per person.

[James Cook]

I know for me personally I have never had a dedicated desk because I travel a lot. I’ll hot desk, you know, so there's always some, you know open, you know, kind of vanilla cubes that travelers can come in and sit in[0:02:59-0:03:52] Do we have to rethink about how that was shared desks or are situated

[Christian Beaudoin]

We do. Those are one of the area's I think that need the most immediate addressing due to the fact that a lot of people aren’t comfortable sitting down in the desk that someone else was just sat in.

[James Cook]

Do you think there is a certain set of the workforce that has now gotten a taste of working from home and is just going to say, you know, hey, this is working. Let's continue it in and so we're going to have more work-from-home?

[Christian Beaudoin]

We sent a detailed survey to understand that information from our clients. The results indicate that a very small percentage of the market around 5% 5.1% so far, indicate that they want to continue working from home permanently full-time. Regardless of if and when you know, all clear signals are given and health approvals are given and we can return to the office. [0:04:00-0:04:51] Will still want to work from home full-time no matter what. That may sound like a small percentage. However, we track over four billion square feet of real estate in jll commercial office square footage. Even if you just take 5% of that space and say it is no longer needed because people are working from home, 5% of 4 billion is, well I am not that quick at math, but that is a big number.

[James Cook]

I love the flexibility, you know that I had, you know before all this started of being able to work from home when I needed, sometimes going to a coffee shop, sometimes being in an office

[Christian Beaudoin]

What you mentioned is what the vast majority of our survey respondents have told us 65% so the biggest percentage have told us they like working from home sometimes, but they also like to be in the office other times for collaboration, for connection to people, for meetings things – for the diversity of space. No matter how much you like working from home [0:04:59-0:05:51]it can be exhausting and frankly a bit dull at times.

[James Cook]

I know that some corporations have partnered with co-working spaces to give their employees sort of that flexible workspace that they can go work at.

[Christian Beaudoin]

I think the model for co-working will at least again in the near-term will change considerably. Co-working was based on shared environments. And we've already talked about how people have a little bit more apprehension now. Sitting at a desk or table or in an office space that just a few minutes ago by someone else if you're not sure of what was there before so that is one element of co-working that is kind of embedded in the model, which is under question right now. Second was density, co-working spaces were very, very dense in order to maximize profitability and cover their fixed costs of community managers and rent. And this is also under question. Third, they were based on [0:05:59-0:06:40] flexibility we've seen now that a lot of people and must work from home. If you're going back into an environment. You might wonder if you really need to work environment right now, or you might just go back to your corporate office for critical meetings or for connecting with your co-workers.

[James Cook]

I’ve heard that you know, in Asian for example, there might be temperature checks before you can get into your office space to make sure you're not showing any signs of illness. How do how do the managers of office space ensure that that people are being healthy and kind of this new?

[Christian Beaudoin]

[0:06:59-0:07:51]

And they don't want the experience to be certainly a mix of results right now. There's no definitive answer here. Yes of the US. I think a lot of owners are exploring those questions right now. There's things that property managers are going to be doing in addition maybe things that aren't as a visible to keep people healthy first approved buildings to ensure that especially in [0:07:59-0:08:50] high traffic areas police that aggressively so you can keep a significant increase in staff. They're all so many restrictions on oxygen levels in buildings early days after from 6 to 8, and then we need to make sure that you have a mentally change in the long-term because of this I do think our attention to health and wellness and Safety and Security will fundamentally change. However, there are still some things that will not and there are reasons that people like to gather and get together and work. The first thing is that companies need to innovate what we've shown on the last six or eight weeks so far. [0:08:51-0:09:45] Is that you can work on individual tasks for moment. You can do conference calls from home and you can do from home and you can do from home, but you can't really in a you can't sit down together around a table with pizza and solve a problem late at night. And that's actually when most companies get their best work done. Not the kind of road work anywhere, you're really trying to innovate think of something new album so easily by into you and that their employees and they're going to customers really recognize a successful. It's very difficult to build culture over a bunch of conference calls, and I’ve seen some of the last 6 weeks of Skype Zoom Drinking Games and Things.

[0:09:45-0:10:38]

But they don't they really just don't match the idea of getting together in person with coworkers who become friends and you can actually develop a true corporate culture. I think the black sing the hidden blessing of all of this is that we are so reminded of how important working together in a physical space is for the quality and innovation of our work and you know those of us who've gone through this, I think we're going to keep that message with us through through the rest of our careers for an impatient, you know the group and we want this to be over in a matter of days or weeks Port that that you've written to address all this time, and we're working folks get it.

[0:10:45-0:11:45]

There's a covid-19 sources page where we list all of our research resources. It should be available for download.

[James Cook]

That’s awesome Christian. Thank you so much for joining me today. Am I going to see you at the virtual? Trivia ball? / happy hour this Friday, man.

[Christian Beaudoin]

I don't know what you're saying about a virtual happy hours.

[James Cook]

They're just as fun as the ones in real life are a Christian. You have a great day. Thank you so much.

[Christian Beaudoin]

Thank you, James.

[James Cook]

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[0:11:45-0:12:15] [James Cook]

Can listen to all future episodes by subscribing to building places in the iPhone podcast app Spotify or wherever it is you get your podcast. If you want to check out the latest research about commercial real estate visit jll.com. And if you'd like to learn more about retail real estate listen to our sister show, it's called where we buy and it's a show where we talked with retail experts and visit the places where we buy