Have you finished working from home? Prepare for more shared offices
Sarah Vanunu started a new job three weeks ago at MyHeritage, an online genealogy platform based in Or Yehuda, Israel, and thanks to Israel’s rapid roll-out of the vaccine, she has been eligible for in-person work since its inception. . But she only comes in on Mondays and Wednesdays and leaves nothing on her assigned desk in between, as different people work there on the other days of the week.
âIt’s so much fun starting a new job and not meeting everyone right off the bat,â she says. âI still don’t know half of my colleagues.
MyHeritage, which employs around 400 people in Israel, is still operating at reduced capacity due to Covid restrictions. Ms. Vanunu, who heads the company’s public relations, comes to work with just a laptop and a mouse. There is a completely clean office waiting for her there, with nothing on it except a monitor. If she wants to come on another day, she has to make a reservation online and be assigned to a random office elsewhere.
As millions of workers return to the office this summer, many will return without their own desks. Some appreciate the flexibility of these hot-desk arrangements, which aren’t completely new but have become much more popular as part of post-pandemic plans for hybrid work.
But shared offices also mean extra time spent managing reservations, coordinating with teams, and helping employees feel a sense of belonging without a dedicated place for them in the office. Experts and workers say there are ways to optimize these spaces, including assigning desks to groups rather than individuals, planning schedules, designating areas for socializing, and paying close attention to people. workers with special needs or disabilities.
One of the main reasons that office bookings are a big part of getting back to work for so many companies is that most workers have yet to be ordered to come five days a week, so their hours remain variable. And many offices reopen at less than maximum capacity. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon wrote in his annual letter to shareholders in April that the bank may only need 60 seats for every 100 employees after the pandemic.
âYou have to have most of the employees coming in almost every day to justify assigning them an office,â says Amy Yin, founder of OfficeTogether, a San Francisco-based office booking and planning software company.
Some companies also want to avoid allocating offices so that they can be cleaned more frequently as part of improved hygiene protocols during a pandemic.
The key concept emerging around office reservation systems is that of âquarters,â where some teams can meet a few days a week, as opposed to individual workers reserving their own offices and coming willingly.
MyHeritage, which opened for in-person work in April, has designated one or two specific weekdays for each team, such as research and development or product, the company’s facilities manager said, Katerina Breitman.
The most popular day for in-person work right now is Thursday, according to data compiled in May from about 10,000 offices around the world by Robin, a workplace management platform. (The least popular is Friday.)
Flexible working arrangements are likely to remain: In a 2020 survey of 77 companies around the world by CBRE Research, 56% of respondents expected more use of flexible office spaces.
Social interaction can be one of the trickier parts of these long-term arrangements, as workers can no longer go through a coworker’s permanent office for unplanned gossip. A 2018 survey by Workthere, a co-working space company, found that only 46% of workers polled thought they were more productive in a shared office environment than having their own desk.
A workaround is to designate areas just for socializing. The Austin, Texas office of consultancy firm Bain & Co., which reopened in May in a WeWork, has a âliftersâ space, an open space with larger tables that can seat around 25 people, to facilitate moments of refreshment, says Peter Bowen, a partner there.
Live streams can also help workers follow each other, says Zach Dunn, Boston-based co-founder of Robin. “At the beginning of the year, [our software] basically displayed desks and seating assignments, but now it’s a real-time updated map as people move around the office.
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Over time, businesses have gotten better at the extra layer of planning required to work in an office that accommodates fewer people in more places. In Austin, Bain asks employees to indicate on a mobile app which days they plan to come the following week. If many people plan to come on a particular day, they can allocate the morning to one team and the afternoon to another.
OfficeTogether allows reservations up to 30 days in advance, but Ms. Yin says most companies tend to book about two weeks in advance.
Workers with disabilities, as well as workers who are used to having specific accommodations at their workstations, may find it more difficult to adapt to hot-desking.
It is important to design such desks in such a way that they are accessible from the start, says Deborah Foster, a professor at Cardiff Business School in Wales who studies diversity in the workplace. âMaking sure the layout is wheelchair accessible and placing sensory markers on the ground to guide the visually impaired are two considerations,â she says. Also important: proper lighting and making sure there are quiet spaces for workers who need to use assistive technologies like voice recognition software.
For workers who cannot be housed in the short term, employers should be more flexible to allow them to continue working from home, says Dr Foster.
One more thing that workers may miss with shared offices is the ability to spruce up their workspaces with personal memories.
Mr. Bowen in Bain used to keep all kinds of tchotchkes in his old Chicago office: photos, a binder of 20 years of company presentations, a trophy from his company golf tournament. He will eventually return there to retrieve his memories, but no longer feels the need to have them at his desk for his colleagues to see. Instead, he’ll simply store them in his new home in Texas.
âThe rise of the home office kind of created a second place for all of this,â he says.
Write to Krithika Varagur at [email protected]
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