Pandemic influences cause offices to reconsider layouts

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White-collar workers have been back and forth with plans to return to an in-person workday with each wave of the pandemic.

While some prophesied in 2020 that a home office or kitchen table was the future office space, many industry experts say the reality is more diverse. Large companies are more likely to plan a return to the office, if they haven’t already. Others are looking to rent in new commercial construction across the valley.

“I was really expecting a huge drop in tenant improvements or office space,” said Kellie Wanbaugh, vice president of interiors at Las Vegas-based architectural firm Ed Vance & Associates Architects. “While we have seen some of our customers tell us that there has been a reluctance to return to the office for people working from home, they are also seeing that almost as many people are desperately excited to return to the office.

The key to a return now is flexibility, say commercial real estate experts.

Bring the workers back

Many office managers intend to bring most or all of their staff back to the workplace full-time. But it can take on a certain appeal.

Gensler Research Institute, the research arm of global architecture firm Gensler, found that during the pandemic, 45% of workers preferred full-time remote work and an additional 36% preferred some level of hybrid working, a survey found. Fall 2021 to approximately 2,300 US office workers.

Cushman & Wakefield broker Dan Palmeri said many Las Vegas businesses have plans to get their employees back to the office, but aren’t sure how. Employers, especially large corporations, say they want a traditional approach to face-to-face cooperative work.

“I think the bigger the company, the more important collaboration is to people,” Palmeri said. “The larger the tenant – especially the more nationally recognized the tenant – the more accustomed they are to using office space traditionally and pushing people back to work. It’s more about mom and dads not needing to (go back to the office) as much or finding a way to make it work.

Office managers considered different ways to attract employees to their office. Chris Dos Santos, office manager and interior designer for Gensler Las Vegas, said a major trend in office design is to treat the office as a destination.

“To really create a unique and special experience that end users really can’t have at home working remotely,” said Dos Santos. “Creating workspaces where people want to be is about designing incredible human experiences that are worth the trip.”

Customers are creating more exciting break spaces with games, expanding group seating and improving coffee options, while others are going further, providing hot lunches for employees. There are also services such as ezCater, an online platform connecting office staff to local restaurants and caterers that bills itself as “food for hybrid work.”

Ideas centered on well-being

Another trend to create a more welcoming environment is based on wellness, said Wanbaugh of EV&A Architects.

There has been a shift to keep spaces for nursing mothers, often referred to as “mothers’ rooms”, open to anyone in need of privacy.

“That’s where people who need to get away or get away a bit, they’ll go to use that room as well,” Wanbaugh said.

The wellness matches Gensler’s research, Dos Santos said. The company’s fall survey revealed ideal work environments for privacy-biased employees. When asked what would make them more comfortable coming back, three-quarters of respondents ranked access to private office spaces as a priority.

At this point, Gensler’s designers incorporate more amenities including quiet rooms, meditation rooms and biophilic spaces – incorporating nature into the room through outdoor spaces, windows or indoor plants.

Integrate hybrid work

Companies are also keeping hybrid working in mind when planning office layouts.

The Gensler Research Institute survey found that in an ideal “post-pandemic future,” 52% of office workers preferred a hybrid work model and 29% wanted an all-remote schedule.

This split led to more experimentation in occupied workspaces, Dos Santos said. Clients may be more inclined to try new layout strategies that suit the workforce coming into the office. Some even use employee liaisons to determine how employees feel about returning to the office and to “strike the right balance” between private space and open space.

In his own office, Dos Santos and the employees are not yet required to report. She estimates that about half the staff show up throughout the week. Designers, for example, are more likely to use space in ways they can’t at home, like laying out swatches.

While open offices and hotel workstations — unassigned seats — have been on the rise for years, the pandemic has rekindled interest in the style, said Heather Bressler, Las Vegas Market President and Chief Design Officer of interior and commercial furniture dealer Henriksen Butler.

The company pushed the idea that “workers are buyers” who want to decide where they can best focus on work on any given day.

For a Las Vegas-based client building an office in New Jersey, Bressler and his team design the office into zones. A space is furnished with ergonomic lounge furniture that promotes group work. There is also a large break room, smaller meeting rooms and a “library area” for solo work.

A layout like New Jersey’s can create a reduction in workstations that is more about “workpoints” than traditional cubicles.

“Most of the reasons our customers and employees come back to the office are to collaborate,” Bressler said. “Most of them are still comfortable doing that upside-down work from home when they need that focus or that privacy or they have a day for Zoom calls. This kind of work can be done from home. What cannot be done from home is collaboration and chance encounters.

McKenna Ross is a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. To follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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