Three office re-entry scenarios

Current developments outlining possible strategies for redefining the office.

A cooperation platform or a place of isolation? Tightening the ties between employees, or maybe having a greater focus on remote work in dispersed flex offices? The answers to these questions will be defined by the curve of the pandemic's stabilization, although many employers already say that the office is irreplaceable when it comes to teamwork and providing space for creative meetings.

Jakub Zieliński

The last two months have highlighted the social role that offices play in our lives, both professionally and privately. The ‘home office’ working mode is a welcome benefit for employees, but only in a situation where it is a matter of individual choice rather than enforced isolation. Therefore, for most employers, it is now crucial to efficiently ‘unfreeze’ the office space and gradually make it available to employees. Nonetheless, the pace of this process and its final outcome will depend on how quickly the pandemic will subside.

Jakub Zieliński

Team Leader, Workplace Advisory, JLL

Scenarios for a new office reality

  1. Hammer - flattening the pandemic curve

“This seems to be the most expected scenario when, after an initial rapid increase in cases, the curve is flattened and we can gradually return to normality. We are now seeing a growing sense of security that has prompted many of us to leave our home offices and return to the ’new normal’. If this trend continues, we can expect an acceleration of flexible working methods being introduced on a permanent basis into our daily lives”, explains Jakub Zieliński.

In practice, this will mean the possibility of utilizing the ‘home office’ mode more often, but only for tasks requiring an either individual or focused work. The office will be treated as a safe place for meetings and cooperation. Reduced employer control over employees over the last two months has served as a real test of productivity. The fact that we passed this test ’with flying colours’ may encourage some companies to provide more freedom to their teams and reward their performance more often.

  1. A recurring lockdown

This is an alternative scenario that will be probable if a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 has not been developed. In this scenario, we may experience alternating cycles of strict restrictions with a loosening of them after the lockdown has been lifted. This, in turn, will affect our perception of the working environment’s ecosystem, where office work will still be the first choice for many, although in a slightly different model than now.

“In this scenario, it is possible to increase interest in flex offices, which will mostly serve for the purposes of individual work in ergonomic conditions. For many of us, working in a home office model can be frustrating in the long run. This, in turn, will require managing dispersed teams, which will not be possible without further investment in modern technologies. This also applies to PropTech solutions, which will help to efficiently manage flexible offices and increase the safety of their users”, adds Jakub Zieliński.

  1. A second wave

This is by far the most pessimistic scenario, although it also stresses the need to make offices available to employees.

“In this scenario, however, they will be treated as places for individual work in comfortable, ergonomic conditions, but social distancing will prevail nonetheless. In this case, it will be necessary to implement an employee rotation system within the office space in the long term, so that it will be possible to maintain the required physical distance between individuals”, concludes Jakub Zieliński.

Adapting the space to changing social rules and standards and the way people function in public spaces will require a redefinition of how we perceive the office space and how we use it.

Anna Bartoszewicz-Wnuk

However, no matter which scenario of the new reality we are talking about, the office has a role to play in each of them. However, it is important to bear in mind that the office re-entry is not a race. The whole process is about providing the company with room for maneuver and the ability to quickly adapt to any changes caused by the pandemic. Therefore, employees should return to the offices in a gradual manner. We are now at a point where there is no room for half measures, so implementing an appropriate return strategy will take time.

Anna Bartoszewicz-Wnuk

Head of Workplace Advisory at JLL

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