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The Future of the Office Space in 2021 and Beyond

By: John Wells, President, RAPP Los Angeles & Dallas

It’s been said that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. The coronavirus pandemic has affirmed this in myriad ways — the freedom to do what we want when we want; the permission to visit friends and loved ones; the ability to get up early, battle traffic, and go to work.

Wait. Do we really miss that?

It appears we do. Three-fourths of workers surveyed by corporate real estate firm JLL express the desire to return to the office once it’s safe to do so.

Desire is one thing; reality is another. Will we ever return to the way things were when it comes to working in a physical office? Most signs point to no.

Work flexibility and choice is forever changed. Giving people more flexibility in terms of in-office and working from home will be the norm moving forward. Some people will be more productive working 100% from home and some people working full-time in the office, but the vast majority of employees will require hybrid solutions that will be needs-based.

To that end, recruiting and the talent pool will no longer be geography-based; a relocation may not be necessary if you live in Los Angeles and get hired by a firm in New York. That opens up some incredible opportunities.

What We Learned

The “classic” workday and lines between work and home got extremely blurred in 2020. The workday ostensibly extended to include all hours of the day, and people and employers needed to find ways to separate the two while respecting the importance of getting the job done amid strange circumstances.

Office culture was increasingly important pre-pandemic, so keeping a sense of normalcy was important during the height of it. Finding ways to keep the existing routines intact while working remotely was impactful. Office happy hours, all-hands meetings, and lunch and learn sessions all shifted to fully remote experiences. And scheduling in additional check-ins was key. The lack of organic interaction in the office became quickly apparent, so more frequent communication was critical.

While many still think some things (such as sales meetings and client interactions) are best done in person and can’t be duplicated over video, for industries that traditionally included heavy travel, there figures to be far less of it moving forward. The pandemic proved that work can be effective (and much more efficient, financially) without it. In some instances, virtual events can be more effective and engaging than traditional, in-person varieties.

Where We’re Going

RAPP has been rethinking what the office means now and how teams will experience a different approach to the office space in the future. The tricky balance of working from home and in the office tops that list. We have always been a pretty flexible organization, but we are really thinking deeply about how people work best and can live their best lives.

We are also rethinking what the physical space can be and how to best ensure people have the best, safest in-office experience possible. We want our physical locations to be places where people want to come to work while we also provide remote or virtual options that everyone can choose to attend.

Good company cultures will continue to thrive. Working from home gave people a real-life “live” view into their colleagues’ and clients’ lives. We had rowdy kids on conference calls, barking dogs, delivery people ringing doorbells, and even home-improvement workers painting walls in the background during meetings. Everyone got a little closer because of this shared humanity, a bit more authentic and empathetic. Bringing that back into an in-office experience should have a positive impact on people and culture as 2021 unfolds.