Office space faced an existential threat in 2020. How companies and their employees use office space was upended by the pandemic and the issue is expected to continue to reverberate throughout 2021.

The onset of the pandemic that sent office employees to work from their homes essentially at the flip of a switch in mid-March emptied out skyscrapers in Center City and low-slung buildings in the western suburbs and South Jersey. Nine months later, those structures remain mostly empty, prompting many to ponder whether office space really matters.

“Post-Covid, the question becomes why are we going back to the office?” said Debra Breslow, principal at Meyer Design Inc. in Ardmore.

Companies large and small are contemplating the same question and as a result, two trends emerged in 2020. Some firms are already deciding they either don’t need office space at all or they don’t need as much. This has caused a rise in sublease space on the office market. It has also prompted some companies to consider selling their office buildings.

The situation has also meant many office tenants decided this year to put off making any long-term decisions on their space needs. Many have instead extended leases for the short-term — for a year or two — to buy some time to gain more clarity on their needs. Landlords were receptive to tenants’ desire to bide time.

Many companies also began to evaluate employees on how they view coming back to the office and what that space should look like if it’s reconfigured. Breslow and others predict the office will not go away entirely post-pandemic but become what she described as a “cultural connection center.”

It will fill what is missing with everyone working from home such as maintaining a company culture and the social aspects that come from working in an office.

Breslow projects that post-pandemic, 75% of an office design will be about community space with the remaining 25% heads-down focus space. Design experts will need to make that space feel physically and psychologically safe from the moment an employee enters it, during the entire time they are there and leave to return to their families. Think soft corners, flexible furniture, sanitation stations, high-standard ventilation and filtration system and multiple, varying spaces to work alone or in groups.

“You’re creating a destination,” Breslow said. “We need to re-engage with employees and we need to do that with user experience.”

For all of the hand-wringing companies are enduring as they figure out their space needs and what the office of the future might look like … Click here for the complete article

by: Natalie Kostelni, Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal