news - September 2020
Alternative Work Spaces
moving toward a middle ground between urban office towers and work-from-home scenarios currently playing out across the country.
By Douglas Weinstein
ONE OF MY NEIGHBORS WAS LAMENTING the work-related travel he was missing out on and how it was making him slowly go nuts. Not virtually nuts, but Jack Nicholson, full on “Here’s Johnny” stark raving mad. He’s actually missing cab lines, hotel rooms the size of shoe boxes, and the pushing and shoving and degradation of life as we know it that represents the airline industry.
And here’s a guy helping to raise three wonderful young daughters who misses going on the road. He wasn’t shy about his personal need for "space." And he shared that his wife feels the same way – commuting back and forth each day and those long trade show forays brought them both some me-time benefits.
Which brings me to the topic I want to throw out. I think there is going to have to be a middle ground between urban office towers and work-from-home scenarios currently playing out across the country. One that I’ve heard of recently is the regional/suburban/spoke-wheel office plan, which has potential if the supporting mechanisms of continuity and personal interaction are baked into the pie. Here are some thoughts I’ll throw out for each of you to digest.
There are already trend lines showing a move from tightly packed urban areas to the suburbs. Not only families, but for businesses as well. Stacking humans into office towers poses risks in today’s coronavirus world, which is not going away anytime soon. In fact, pandemic outbreaks are forecast to increase, not decrease.
Additionally, getting to these urban stacks – what passes for mass transit – is also a breeding ground for viral outbreaks, not to mention a complete time suck. Mass transit is woefully unproductive for most workers.
Now imagine regional office space located not in city centers, but out where your workers live. Smaller office spaces where employees can go to, which are easy on the commute whether you drive your own car or hop on a local bus.
The big downside here is that who is actually staffing these offices? Do you have one or two people from each of your primary departments? A few administrators, a few engineers, a few sales people? That’s not great for team building since every one of the people in the office will have to get on a Zoom call to talk to their direct colleagues. You may as well all work from home!
Regional offices where you might be able to group relevant teams affords tremendous cost savings. Lower rent per square foot and less wasted commute time.
The biggest hurdle, and one everyone is experiencing to some degree, is how to manage your people when you can only see them on a screen? Motivation and staying together to accomplish targeted goals is a hurdle for even seasoned managers. There really is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, so investing in remote management behavior is critical.
where does that leave design-build?
Architecting these new satellite spaces, designing the interiors to maintain appropriate distancing, and packing them with the necessary technology needed so everyone, everywhere can seamlessly interact, is the new normal. We’ll be exploring these concepts in the pages of TD as we move forward.
Re-tooling and re-imagining mass transit will permit team members to travel between satellite offices on a regular basis, so ideas can be hashed out and worked through – those fine details that can’t be properly zoomed.
And air quality and water purification, acoustics and many other resilient and sustainable designs are going to have to be part of the new normal.