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The office experience in the coronavirus age.

There have been many dire predictions that the office as we know it may be going away now that the tide of remote work has rolled in. No one can predict the future, but it’s safe to say that office workplaces aren’t going anywhere. That said, just like everything else in the age of COVID-19, the office is adapting through de-densification and rethinking community spaces.

Throughout the last cycle and a robust job market, occupiers recognized that in order to recruit the best talent and remain competitive they needed to not only amenitize their space, but create experiences that also enrich their employees’ lives. Entire company cultures have been built on employee experience, and it stands to reason that the combination of office space and experience will continue to be critical.

Just like the physical space, experiences will need to evolve in order to maintain that sought after corporate culture. Social distancing requirements mean tenants and landlords will need to turn to technology to supplement some of the experiences employees previously expected to participate in with others.

For example, firms may need to consider creating digital culture hubs, an online destination where employees contribute to and absorb company culture. This can be an important tool for showing values in action, promoting social interaction and even onboarding new hires.

We’ve seen other technologies be deployed rapidly already, creating a wide range of digital amenity options for tenants. Experiences such as online cooking classes, health challenges using fitness trackers and even gardening classes all help keep people engaged and encourage them to learn new skills. There are even convenience amenities such as mobile pet grooming and bike mechanics and healthy snack delivery to make life easier, all executed through tech platforms.

But companies may have to take it a step further and supplement the experience employees have as they return to the office in greater numbers. Health and wellness have already become a focus in many peoples’ lives, and companies will have to respond. This means providing more health guidance to employees and creating a healthy environment using technology such as sensors to provide data on traffic and cleaning needs in their workplaces and access to health and safety information. Even making sure there is contactless package delivery and a safe way to deliver and serve food and beverage for meetings can make the difference between employees feeling safe and energized to work, or distracted and uncomfortable.

Another strategy that is coming into play is “bringing the inside out.” Currently, many people are finding they feel safer interacting with each other outdoors, where there is greater air circulation and it’s easier to practice social distancing. We may find that holding larger meetings outdoors (weather permitting) could be more comforting for employees than simply having to use video chats while in the office.

With all of these strategies it is critical to note that they need to be implemented wisely, with the health and safety of employees always put first. Uncertainty is still pervasive, but the workplace is not going away anytime soon. Investors and corporate occupiers have an opportunity to provide experiences to tenants and employees that can bring back a sense of normalcy and help re-stitch the fabric of office culture that continues to power outstanding firms.

Originally published in NREI’s Midyear Outlook.

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