The coronavirus outbreak has created an army of remote workers, and it’s left those in the commercial real estate industry facing a real challenge – how do they get people to come back to the office?
According to Coen van Oostrom, chief executive of a real estate firm called Edge, companies will need to adapt and upgrade their work environments if they’re to persuade employees to return to the office.
“You have to basically seduce your people to come into the office and work there instead of from home,” van Oostrom told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday. “We believe that it will be the end of the large batteries of people working on a big floor, side to side, even with screens in between. There’s no real need for that any more; you can do your work everywhere. … We believe that the office will be the place that you get together, where the culture is being built, where new people are being brought in and can learn and understand the way things are done in a company, but to do so you have to have a work environment that is amazing.”
Van Oostrom said he believes that workplaces will become more like a “clubhouse” where employees can come in for one or two days a week and spend the rest of their time working from home. However, he believes that those who opt to work remotely on a permanent basis will be missing out on certain opportunities, and that their jobs could well be outsourced in the future.
“If you’re not part of the inner circle of a company and invited to come to that clubhouse, then you’re going to have a very difficult time,” van Oostrom said.
He said that companies can help workers feel more comfortable about returning to the office through design changes. For example, they can install extra staircases to help people avoid using elevators too much and risking their chances of catching a virus. They could also install air quality sensors to ease people’s concerns.
Meanwhile, public health officials say one of the easiest ways to prevent spreading germs indoors is to increase the volume of outside air that comes inside a building. Just opening a few windows can help with this, according to an NPR report. Still, many office buildings are fitted with windows that cannot be opened, and there has been a trend in recent years to create air tight seals in buildings to boost energy-efficiency. So architects are now challenged to come up with new ways to boost outdoor ventilation in a post COVID-19 world that doesn’t accelerate energy consumption.