4 Return To Work Trends That Will Last for Decades to Come

Masks may not always be a part of the workplace, but some innovations are here to stay. Here are four return to work trends that reflect how the office is changing for the long term.

As the pandemic enters its eighth month, commercial property owners and managers continue to navigate the return-to-work process for their tenants. 

Yet as CRE leaders look for solutions to this short-term challenge, it’s important to identify which return-to-office trends won’t simply disappear the moment COVID-19 is under control. Because hand sanitizer and masks aside, some of these innovations are likely to stick around, changing workplaces for the better in the years and decades to come.

In this post, we break down four long-term trends worth paying attention to as more and more landlords and businesses invite their tenants and employees to return to the workplace.

Let’s dive in.

1. Technology-first building management

As more and more businesses return to the workplace, they will likely come back in small, staggered, and hard-to-predict waves.

Given the need for property managers to prevent overcrowding and uphold physical distancing, this kind of movement adds logistical complexity.

Add to that the need to keep everyone up to date on the latest building safety protocols and it becomes clear that office buildings increasingly need to adopt a technology-first approach.

In other words, because of COVID-19, processes and systems that have traditionally been managed on paper or in person need to shift online, where it can be managed efficiently and effectively across both web and mobile devices.

These include functions like communications, booking meeting rooms, registering guests, filling out forms, submitting cleaning and maintenance requests, entering buildings and suites, and even parking management.

On top of these traditional functions, technology also has the power to unlock new tenant experiences, such as:

– Booking fitness centers via mobile phone
– Attending virtual events (free or paid)
– Making retail and food & drink purchases via mobile phone
– Applying digital promotions and discounts

Not only can technology play a critical role in coordinating the return-to-office—it can also open the door to brand new efficiencies, functionality, and tenant engagement possibilities in the long term.

2. More low-touch and touchless environments

To mitigate the spread of contagion in the wake of COVID-19, CRE leaders are increasingly looking to implement low-touch and touchless solutions for building, suite, elevator, and room entrances, with the most forward-looking of these solutions putting a tenant’s access credentials directly on their smartphone (rather than a separate fob or keycard). After COVID-19, this convention will have set new tenant expectations and will most certainly be here to stay.

Over time, in fact, we will discover new aspects of the workplace to make low-touch and touchless through the power of our mobile devices. From opening lockers to printing and photocopying, a simple tap, twist, or wave of your phone is all you’ll need.

More broadly, office buildings will begin to adopt digitized access management systems to make identity, security, and access a breeze across the board, permitting authorized tenants to enter spaces at their leisure via QR codes, bluetooth, and/or electronic leashing.

On a similar note—it’s likely that we will see office buildings implement fully digital visitor management systems as well. New processes will not only reduce touch points to safely and efficiently manage tenants, but guests, deliveries, and third-party services too.

3. More flexibility on employee in-office hours

The sudden shift to 100% remote work has begun to establish new norms for businesses and their teams. As employees get used to working out of the office—at least part of the time—organizations around the world are making changes to their remote work policies.

Microsoft, for example, will now let employees work from home permanently if they choose, while Shopify is giving their 5,000+ employees the option as well.

Yet even for businesses that take a more conservative approach, it’s likely that organizations will become at least a bit more flexible with the hours their employees are required to be in the office. Some companies may establish core in-office working hours (e.g., 10 am – 3 pm), for instance, while others may permit certain remote-work days or move certain departments to a remote-work setup.

According to a survey from Gartner, 74% of CFOs plan to permanently shift at least 5% of their workforce to remote moving forward.

Gartner CFO Survey 2020
Source: Gartner CFO Survey 2020

All of this means that employees—both current and future—will begin to expect organizations to offer a hybrid model in which time in the office is staggered to avoid overcrowding and allow for physical distancing.

And this means that tenants will want sometimes more space, sometimes less, holding onto a core office while occasionally augmenting it with meeting rooms, private desks, and collaborative workspaces—whether for days, weeks, or months at a time.

To facilitate this flexible workspace model, property managers need a sophisticated system that allows both tenants and individual employees to book their desks, rooms, and supplementary workspaces in advance. 

An innovative building management solution like Lane can help mitigate these challenges by offering the booking, scheduling, and payments functionality required to make implementing more flexible workplace models a breeze.

4. More intentional team building & connecting

For months now, professionals across the world have been working from home.

For some, it’s been a welcome change that’s increased productivity by removing commute times and in-office distractions. For others, however, it’s had quite the opposite effect. More at-home distractions have meant reduced productivity and difficulties communicating with colleagues—not to mention the Zoom fatigue experienced by professionals everywhere. 

But debates about productivity aside, one thing is almost universally true:

Employees working from home are feeling isolated.

Cut off from their peers, employees miss out on the energy of the office, the connectivity of their teams, and the daily social interactions they were used to. In fact, according to Buffer’s State of Remote Work report, 20% of remote workers say loneliness is their biggest struggle, another 20% specify their inability to collaborate and communicate, and 18% say they struggle with not being able to “unplug” from work in their combined work-home environment.

Buffer State of Remote Work Report 2020
Source: Buffer State of Remote Work Report 2020

Given this state of isolation, property managers can expect to see companies place more emphasis on team building, community, and collaboration as employees begin to transition back to the workplace. Specifically, tenant companies will increasingly use the physical office environment as their key tool to keep everyone fully connected in 2021 and beyond.

How will property managers approach this?

To facilitate their on-site team-building activities, tenants will increasingly be in need of additional meetup spaces, breakout areas, and rooms dedicated to collaborative work and/or team socials—building amenities which can be offered for quick and easy booking and/or purchase via web and mobile device.

With a smart booking and payments tool like Lane, not only can individual employees book day passes, desks, and rooms for their own use, tenants can coordinate these team-building meetups company-wide as well.

Wrapping up

COVID-19 is changing the way office buildings operate—not just in the short term, but for decades to come. As new safety procedures are implemented and new tenant expectations created, property managers will increasingly need to adopt innovative technologies to manage the “new workplace.”

Let’s recap the 4 key long-term trends we’re watching for:

1. Technology-first building management.
Building managers will increasingly need to digitize day-to-day operations to promote safety, efficiency, and tenant engagement in the workplace.

2. More low-touch and touchless environments.
Traditional approaches to access management, guest registration, parking, etc. will increasingly shift to low-touch and touchless systems powered by smartphones.

3. More flexibility on employee in-office hours.
Tenants and employees will spend less fixed time in the office than they had in the past, with hybrid or flex models powered by digital search, booking, and payments systems becoming the norm.

4. More intentional team building and connecting.
To combat employee isolation that results from working remotely, tenant companies will place more emphasis on collaboration and team connectivity through the physical office environment.

What can you do to prepare for the return-to-office and long-term future of work? First, download our free report breaking down 5 key return-to-work challenges and how to solve them.

To learn more about how Lane can help you navigate the return-to-office and deliver the future of work to your tenants, reach out to our team of building management experts today.