The economy is at a dramatic halt, and businesses all over the world are struggling due to the restrictions imposed on transport and travel. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a dire need for many offices to evaluate their corporate policies and work settings. Working from home has been essential for communication and to continue business processes. Workplaces are now struggling to figure out the changes the “new normal” would usher in once lockdown protocols are lifted and companies resume operations.
Andrew Segal, the President and CEO of Boxer Property and Co-Founder Stemmons Enterprise, talks about his insights on what might happen in the workplace in the near future, considering the need for social distancing and physical boundaries. He discusses possible scenarios, improvements, and renovations that may occur and are necessary for a business to resume.
Aside from the new normal in the workplace in terms of policies and environment, he also tackles the possibility of branches moving out from the cities and business centers to the suburban neighborhoods where there is less need for commuting and mass transit. Millennials, especially, could be more inclined to make this shift as they settle into a new phase in their lives and start building their families, homes, and communities.
Andrew has experienced a challenging time being in quarantine and land-locked. He attributes this struggle to the fact that he can’t travel or explore as he would typically do before the pandemic. At the moment, working from home is the only alternative, and there are obvious downsides to this workplace setting.
Andrew recounts that he has traveled a lot of miles for work. According to Google tracker, Andrew used to travel an average of 600 miles a day for a total of 199,000 miles the entire year. Many people travel the same amount or even more in a day because of the sheer volume of business they need to conduct. However, Andrew believes that travel restrictions negatively affect not only businesses and organizations but also individuals like him who thrive on exploration.
With the pandemic, travel is severely restricted to essential goods and services. This limits the opportunities to learn from different places and unchartered domains. Andrew firmly believes that being open to new cultures and novel experiences are essential recipes for progress. He even attributes his family’s success to their upbringing of open-mindedness and bringing home fresh ideas from the places they explore.
Society, in general, developed through exploration. Ancient cities and early civilizations have always been curious and fascinated with the world around them. The discoveries and learnings our predecessors made ushered in a new age of trade and technology. Similar to how these civilizations thrived in exploration, people who flourish the most are those who explored and discovered.
Societies that simply stayed in place do not get new ideas and would, therefore, struggle to progress. In the same manner, individuals who aren’t open to novel insights would have a hard time improving themselves.
Andrew explains this further with an analogy. He says that a modern art piece could simply be dismissed as something a child would do or something with no meaning. However, the lack of meaning doesn’t come from the art itself. Instead, it comes from the mindset of the person viewing the art. Being closed-minded would undoubtedly elicit a response of disinterest and no learning. Instead, Andrew implores that we ask ourselves, “What about this is relevant to me?”
Furthermore, we let people pass us by without us getting the chance to connect with them. Andrew strongly believes that “we need to look at what other people are doing, even if and especially if they are not in the same business with us.” But given the imposed restrictions due to the pandemic, there is an expected decline in curiosity and exploration. This might pose a problem in terms of development in the long-run. As Andrew says, “It kills me to be an explorer without a ship these days.”
Different people have massively different experiences with coming back to work. Some may not feel a big difference, whereas some may have to adapt to an entirely new process.
According to Andrew, “The pendulum is going to swing away from dense transit-oriented cities” and will move to the suburbs. Your residential area may have to welcome offices and new businesses. This also means that workforce density in certain regions would decrease, and there would be more distance between workforces.
Moreover, the cities of before would have a hard time containing the threat of infection. Mass transit will become a difficult ordeal as there is no way to move people around without them touching and possibly infecting each other. This may have severe effects on those working in especially dense areas and force them to change their lifestyle.
The COVID-19 crisis has instigated talks of the new normal and how offices will adapt to the concepts of social distancing and physical boundaries. Andrew enumerates his top three ideas on what the workplace can do to maintain the necessary distance and still function efficiently:
1. The offices are going to lose density
2. There will be many office renovations and disassemblies
3. There will be a need for work from home settings
Andrew recounts that in the 1990s, there used to be just about three to four people per thousand square feet of office space. This space between people was evident, even for places such as trading floors where communication is essential.
However, the vibrant and dynamic modern age has made it apparent that concentrating the workforce in a set space would be more efficient for businesses. The number of people per thousand square feet has now jumped to 8–9 people in the suburbs. This number can even reach 12 people in dense cities. But with the current health crisis, the days of meetings and office gatherings in one place have been on pause for some time.
It’s now evident that aside from the policies to restrict gatherings and ease employee density, actual environmental changes should be put in place to make it easier for everyone to cope. Andrew says, “Everyone needs a closed door and their own workspace.”
Modern offices have always been open and concentrated because the workplace has recognized that ease of collaboration and communication could increase overall productivity and cohesion in organizations. However, the new normal necessitates pandemic-proofing the workplace and allowing it to become more personal, should it resume operations.
The old workplace setting is now flirting with the idea of a work from home setting—but it's only amazing in theory. In practice, it can become problematic and unsustainable for offices everywhere, despite advantages such as the following:c
• Lowers office cost
• Increases comfort
• Eliminates the need for transportation and commute
Andrew gives us three reasons as to why work from home is still not the ideal environment: distraction, labor laws, and new recruits.
The office was set up for a reason. Having a tangible boundary between the place where you play, relax, and sleep and the place where you work enables you to focus when you’re working. Likewise, it lets you unwind when you’re off work.
With a work from home setting, it’s easy to fall prey to avoiding work when your bed is a more attractive option. Moreover, household duties will also continue to demand your attention. Without the border between work and play, an employee can start to feel both unproductive and burnt out at the same time.
Because distraction is a problem in a work from home setting, this may result in delayed work and missed deadlines. Unfortunately, for most employees who aren’t entrepreneurs or self-employed, there are laws preventing work from being extended beyond the designated hours. This affects both the employer and the employee negatively.
The work from home setting may be sufficient at the moment, but that’s only because employees already know each other and can adapt to a video call meeting without having to break the ice and establish a relationship. However, businesses would run into a new set of issues once the hiring and recruiting process resume and new recruits onboard the organization. This setting prevents any connection or relationship from developing. Without familiarity, the work from home model proves to be ineffective and unsustainable.
Studies indicate that millennials now compose the majority of the workforce and will continue to become the largest segment in the near future. They are a crucial part of the business cycle.
At the moment, millennials may prefer dense cities for work. However, as they enter a new phase of life—settling in and starting families—and considering the circumstances brought about by the pandemic, they may begin to prefer a shift to the suburbs from the compact, transit-oriented cities. Andrew also mentions that people who don’t commute could become the primary initiators who make this shift.
Social distancing entails that there will be a transformation regarding how and where businesses are conducted. With the crisis, migration may be necessary to free up space and decompress the already dense workplace. In essence, the new normal necessitates that the city will be the suburb and vice versa.
You must be logged in to post a comment.