‘Trophy office’ poised to dominate in return to work

Special report: Makeover for traditional office space as mass vaccinations reopen doors to employees

Beacon HR CEO Nicole Davidson: “We’re going to need to really thoughtfully redesign our offices so we’ve got areas for that deep-focus work, and then we’ve got specific areas where you want to feel that buzz [as if] you’re in the coffee shop and you’re having those spontaneous collaboration opportunities” | Rob Kruyt, BIV

If mass vaccinations are meant to bring back a sense of normalcy to B.C., the effect may be lost on many employees returning to the office this year.

“It will feel different, and I think employers need to be really thoughtful and conscious on their office design,” said Nicole Davidson, CEO of Vancouver-based Beacon HR Inc., whose company provides human resources and recruiting services.

She’s been consulting with businesses about return-to-work plans in recent weeks as vaccinations ramp up, and the most popular option among clients is a hybrid model, in which employees work from home part time and work from the office the remainder.

Davidson said the past year has changed perceptions about working from home, and many businesses will need to offer that option if they wish to attract in-demand talent. And that means the look of the office will change for those who pop by for a weekly meeting or prefer working on-site rather than their own homes.

“If they have a physical office space, they’re talking about more strategically having meeting spaces for more collaboration, to have that social connection space for culture-building for that spontaneous collaboration that everyone is really missing,” Davidson said, adding that workstations are also likely to be downsized with fewer people coming in every day.

“We’re going to need to really thoughtfully redesign our offices so we’ve got areas for that deep-focus work, and then we’ve got specific areas where you want to feel that buzz [as if] you’re in the coffee shop and you’re having those spontaneous collaboration opportunities.”

She also anticipates growth of blended workspaces, in which an anchor tenant might lease some of its space to a smaller firm.

“Now maybe they’re saying, ‘Let’s have desk space for 40 people or 50 people. Let’s lease it out to three other early-stage tech companies,’” Davidson said. “It’ll be a hub for their team so that when their team members are feeling that pain of social isolation, or if they have a project they want to collaborate on or if they want to bring everyone in for an annual retreat they can use that space to some extent, but then they’re also making great use by leasing it out to other teams.”

Wayne Berger, CEO of IWG PLC’s North America and Latin America division, said financial considerations are also coming into play for companies that have gone the past 12 months without using much of their office space.

“Companies are recognizing they don’t need the same footprint, which provides a great economic savings for organizations because they can rebalance their corporate footprint and their real estate portfolio,” he said. 

IWG offers co-working spaces to companies and workers and has been facilitating efforts from multinational bank Standard Chartered PLC and Japanese telecom giant NTT Communications to provide space to a combined 400,000 employees.

Berger said most companies will still retain a corporate headquarters, but one more akin to what he calls a “trophy workplace.”

In those situations, employees may also still perform their jobs at physical workspaces at locations closer to where they live, such as in the suburbs, while occasionally visiting the trophy workplace. 

But Berger expects the return to the traditional office tower to remain sluggish for some time to come.

“There is less of a design element and less of a return to large, open-concept, collaborative, highly dense common areas,” he said. “That has not seen that type of significant resurgence yet because of the nature of the fact that we are still manoeuvring through this pandemic, and we most likely will have social-distancing measures, and other obviously very focused health and safety protocols in place for the very near future.”

torton@biv.com

@reporton