Back to the Office - The "New Workplace"

Chicago, IL | July 06, 2021

Back to the Office - 
The “New Workplace”



The various degrees of uncertainty in each of the stages of the pandemic haven't made it easy to divine the future of offices. With that said, two consistent goals have guided the MBRE Project Services department as we’ve reacted to the pandemic in the moment and as we plan for the future:

  1. There needs to be a focus on effective and productive business operations.
  2. We need to be good social stewards and provide a sense of safety and confidence for employees, customers, and visitors.

Success on both fronts will come from well-considered and well-executed planning.

Remember mid-2020 when everyone started to speculate what offices might look like going forward? Will the cabinet doors in shared kitchens disappear? Do we really need handles? Is there some sort of HVAC or ultraviolet panacea that building owners can install to kill the COVID-19 virus? Will we work from people-sized hamster balls? Okay, no one was calling for that last one… With coronavirus seemingly being tamed, we can finally glimpse what offices will really look like, and consensus is projecting that there will be fewer physical changes and alterations than initially anticipated. Instead, existing offices are expected to operate with fewer people occupying them at any given time.

Back to the Office - 
The “New Workplace”The future of "flexible" office space will focus on several things; managing employees' in-office schedules is among the most substantial components. The consensus is leaning towards roughly 10-to-30% of the office population always working remotely, 30-to-50% reworking flexibly two to three days a week, and 10-to-30% regularly going into the office. This will also vary significantly by region, industry, and corporate culture, and will likely evolve over time.

The new flexibility of employee schedules will invariably drive the need for flexibility of the physical space, but again, not the significant changes hypothesized at the pandemic's beginning. The space employees inhabit will focus on collaboration, cultural support, social interaction, and corporate identity—more collaboration areas with more space can functionally serve a wide variety of purposes. Larger organizations are contemplating hub-and-spoke options, combining these flexible, collaborative spaces with more locational choices for individuals to work. A few examples: couches in common areas where people can work on their laptops, large tables where a handful of coworkers can seamlessly switch between coworking and focused individual work, high-chairs and tables in kitchen areas can double as working space when someone needs a break from their desk—there’s limitless potential for those with a little imagination. Future design of the workplace will also infuse more health and wellness components, including green walls, windows that open, greater air exchanges, as well as access to green spaces.

Our golden rule for development big and small, even when we are not in a pandemic: there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each case has different considerations based on existing conditions, business strategies, lease terms, budgets, and more. Within the MBRE Project Services team, our strategies emphasize pragmatic and practical concerns, tailoring solutions to our clients' needs and budgets. This is reinforced by our close collaborations with our tenant representation and asset management teams, which allows us to share best practices and information on new trends.

No one can say for certain what the long-term effects of coronavirus and the pandemic experience will have on the Chicago office environment. We maintain that sensible, educated, and flexible responses are what is needed. And we are determined to guide our clients through the next stages of the "New Workplace."

The MBRE Project Services team has unrivaled experience with a number of project types, including corporate offices, healthcare such as medical office buildings, life sciences and lab space, student housing and school construction. Our team has successfully delivered over $800 million worth of projects on-time and within budget. With our buying power, clients benefit from the savings that matter to their business.



Learn more about MBRE’s Project Services Team.