Will we be working from home or the office? What does the future bring for office tenants?

By: Clifford A. Hockley, President Bluestone and Hockley Real Estate Services,
Executive Director, SVN | Bluestone and Hockley

As an owner of a company with between 80 and 100 employees, we have been pondering if we should be going back to work at the office. We never stopped working even when we made the decision to leave the office to protect our employees from COVID -19.

Technology has advanced considerably to enable employees to work from remote locations. Many already work from cars, at Starbucks, or on the dining room table at home.

Our experience reflects that we are able to work successfully, in small group meetings using our Ring Central (Zoom) VOIP infrastructure. But larger meetings over 10 people, tend to become unwieldy and the technology often becomes unstable, leading to poor visual results and connections that are slow and sometimes garbled. Some of that can be attributed to the number of people working remotely, some to unstable WI-FI networks, and some to the cabling that runs through and to everyone’s home.

In the next few months, we will be testing many options, that include social distancing for our staff at the office, as well as rotational attendance, giving our departments the opportunity to continue experimenting with options of working together, both remotely and in our office.

We hope to enable the members of our departments to work at home an average of two to three days a week, allowing them to reduce their daily stress, by reducing their commute and potential exposure. We acknowledge that it is likely employees may be able to control their time better, by embracing remote video and telephone technology, because they can set appointments for most of their business interactions. In other words, they may not get interrupted as often, by having a workmate pop in for a visit.

Unfortunately, it seems that key opportunities for group synthesis, learning moments and social engagement go missing when you work in an exclusively remote (distributed) environment. It may be harder to train and supervise staff and to interact as a team. To deal with these challenges we are actively looking at new operating and communication methods. Random interactions that usually occur in an office environment are very difficult to duplicate online without closer interaction in person. Visual and verbal cues that may occur in the office are often missed in a totally distributed work environment.

What is clear is that this new post-pandemic world order will enable owners and employees of businesses that are office-centric, to create an updated work environment, by blending both in and out of office experiences. In the near term, we have done an excellent job taking care of our clients and found a new work/life balance to keep our employees safe and happy.

Adjusting to this new remote work environment will take some getting used too.

But until we can ensure total workplace safety for our employees, social distancing, handwashing, masks, implementation of new meeting standards, and remote communications, will be the methods we will use to protect our staff.

Finally, many of our staff may start traveling, to take advantage of those hard-earned vacations. We want them to be able to work upon their return, but they will need to quarantine themselves before they can come back to the office, especially of they have visited a hot spot state or city. Remote work access gives them the opportunity to continue working upon their return, and not infect their co-workers.

In the future, there may be more pandemics. Learning to work both in the office and remotely gives employers maximum flexibility. In the long run, the jury is still out how successful this work integration will work out, but early signals point to happy clients, and employees. In the near-term, office employers will continue to keep the office space they have. It is not at all clear, how long that will continue, or how employers will adjust their working environment.

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