Coffee and Conversation: What The Office Will Look Like Post-Covid

On Friday, Oct. 5, GrepBeat’s Pete McEntegart “sat down” virtually with Raleigh Founded’s Jessica Porta, Matthew Cooke from Davis Moore real estate, and John Warasila from Alliance Architecture to discuss their thoughts on what the “post-covid” office could look like in the latest episode of Coffee & Conversation. (Thanks to our sponsor Cherry Bekaert!) Spoiler alert: they don’t think it will involve plexiglass shields and hazmat suits.

Cooke said that when everyone suddenly had to work from home in the spring, many of his clients saw it as an opportunity to save a few bucks on office space. As the work-from-home has gone on, Cooke said he’s hearing from more and more decision-makers who want to bring people back into the office, because company culture and productivity is suffering in the digital environment.

A lot of people are starting to go into work incrementally, and some companies are beginning to make plans for coming back mid-2021, riding on the possibility that a vaccine will be widely distributed by then, Cooke said. 

However, Porta noted that even when a vaccine comes out, it’s likely that not everybody will have immediate access to it, so the transition to a truly “post-covid” office—a future time when people can go to work without fearing they are risking their health—could be slow and gradual.

Davis Moore’s Matthew Cooke (top left) left them laughing in Friday’s Coffee & Conversation. Also pictured, clockwise from top right, are GrepBeat’s Pete McEntegart, Raleigh Founded’s Jess Porta and Alliance Architecture’s John Warasila.

Both in the meantime and beyond, Porta predicts many companies will utilize “landing work” office spaces, in which employees come into the office on a rotating basis during the week and work remotely when they don’t come in.

Warasila said this hybrid approach for returning to work can be a positive opportunity for companies to “expand their footprint” by attracting new talent from a wider net.

“It’s not necessarily about how long it takes someone to get to work,” Warasila said. “It’s more like, can they come three days a week? I think this puts an HR function in place, figuring out how do you coalesce the right combinations of people over time.”

Another possible aspect of the “post-covid office” could be that people will be less willing to accept high density in the workplace. Warasila predicts that may lead to fewer workers than before getting assigned a desk, especially since he doubts that the actual square footage of office spaces will change much.

Although the hybrid approach may be a good compromise for companies now who want to return to work now but also stay safe, the all-remote option has already proven to not be a successful long-term approach, as productivity and retention levels across the board are suffering, they generally agreed. 

Even something as simple as bumping into someone at the office or meeting by the coffee station—the “watering hole” as Porta calls it—creates an opportunity for collaboration and iterating ideas between people. That’s typically something that happens organically, Warasila said, and is difficult (and awkward) to curate digitally by appointment.

Porta, who helps run Raleigh Founded (formerly HQ Raleigh), said the entrepreneurship community especially thrives on in-person collaboration.

“People come up with different prototypes and different solutions because they are collaborating,” she said of the Raleigh Founded community. “Their peers help them find resources, people—and that’s not something we have to curate, it just naturally happens. I think that’s one good argument for people to return, at least in that hybrid capacity in those landing spot offices. Because there really is, especially in the innovation world, a power in community and collaboration.”

Another aspect of physically being at work that is impossible to replicate digitally is a sense of company culture.. It’s especially hard for employers to make new employees feel a sense of being on a team, when the only times they’ve seen their co-workers is on the computer screen.

“What keeps people at a company is the culture, the relationships, and their work family,” Cooke said. “The question is always how do you make your company more “sticky” or more attractive to work at? It’s that culture, which is really hard to create in this digital environment, almost impossible.”

Editor’s Note: You can also watch the whole web panel here:

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