BY LEHRER CUMMING MAY 26, 2020 10:45 AM
As projects that were shut down start back up and as workers go back to their jobsites and offices, much of the current focus is on the immediate return to work. That’s understandable; we are all eager to get back to work and need to do this as safely as possible. Our attention will rightfully continue to be focused on short-term adjustments as we react to changing events and new information.
The more interesting question, however, is what happens post-pandemic? Even in the midst of dealing with the immediate issues, it is important to think about what workplaces will look like in the long term. What will be the new normal six months from now, a year from now, five years from now?
“One thing for certain is that we will see a flurry of experimentation,” said Gavin Middleton, Chief Operating Officer at Lehrer Cumming. “These efforts, successful and failed, will offer important findings for companies that stay current. There is unlikely to be one pattern that works for every firm, but the most successful firms will work with their designers, construction consultants, and real estate advisors to develop a path that customizes these learnings to a firm’s needs.”
Advisors such as those mentioned by Middleton can play a key role in helping companies and organizations navigate the new landscape, especially for those looking to build, expand, or renovate their office spaces.
“Resuming construction, and doing so wisely and in a way that prepares you for an uncertain future, requires guidance from a person or team who knows the industry inside and out,” said David Thurm, Executive Vice President at Lehrer Cumming. “You want someone who can perform subcontractor outreach, who understands impacts to the global supply chain, and who follows and understands the flurry of changes affecting office construction projects nationwide.” With changing work rules and procedures, there are opportunities to rethink how work is performed. For example, it makes sense for some work to relocate from the jobsite to the factory, where worker health can be more easily safeguarded.
We will also see broad experimentation with the way the workplace is organized. One such change will be how companies are approaching remote work. Just last week, Facebook announced that it would allow many of its employees to continue working from home, predicting that up to half of its workforce would be offsite going forward. If this approach proves successful and is made permanent, and if other companies enact similar policies, the implications could be widespread and long-lasting.
Crucial to any successful approach will be building in enough flexibility to allow for inevitable shifts. We have social distancing now, but more densely occupied plans will return once the pandemic is behind us. Smart companies need to be prepared so as not to be trapped by the thinking of the moment.
Similarly, if remote working becomes more widely accepted, this is likely to put more pressure on creating a workplace that uses infrequent visits by remote workers as a means of instantly making them feel included. There will be interesting experiments in configuring space to concentrate the experience of these encounters to create meaningful connections quickly.
Just make sure you don’t try to do it alone. “There are experts available who think about these things day and night,” said Middleton, “and who can really help companies figure out how to prepare for the future. Reach out and ask for help. It will be the best investment you make.”