A Gartner survey of 127 finance and corporate real estate (CRE) leaders in February 2021 showed that 59% of respondents expect shared office seating for at least a quarter of their employees who return after the pandemic.
An increase in remote working will meaningfully change office space configurations, which will subsequently affect employees, finances and corporate real estate, said Tammy Shoham, director in the Gartner Finance practice.
“The most obvious consequence is that firms will need less office space per employee,” Shoham pointed out.
While it is difficult to accurately predict the long-term effects that will have on property markets, short-term impacts are already being felt.
“Many more office workers will need to get used to not having a desk of their own. The space this frees can make room for things that are more useful to employees, such as meeting rooms, or collaboration and amenity spaces,” Shoham predicted.
Most respondents expected that more than 25% of the workforce would be in shared seating in the next 1-2 years, and 36% anticipate that the majority of employees will be in shared seating, according to survey results.
This is a significant shift from the pre-pandemic workplace, in which 80% of CRE leaders reported that less than 25% of employees were in shared seating, Gartner said.
While many had moved teams such as sales functions, which were rarely into the office, into shared seating, most organizations continued to provide dedicated seating prior to the pandemic, the firm added.
“There’s little doubt that times have changed,” said Shoham. “The challenge for organizations will be to enact this change in a way so that employees feel they have gained, not lost.”
Gartner recommends that CRE leaders consider the following tactics when implementing shared seating in their workplaces:
Neighborhooding. This is an arrangement whereby employees sit in shared seats within a designated area of the office. Neighborhoods enable team-building and other cultural aspects of an office continue in the new normal.
Seat reservation technology. Applications that let employees reserve seating can help relieve uncertainties associated with when to come into the office and whether they will find space to sit. These applications also reduce the administrative burden of managing shared seating.
Clean desk policy. This policy, which some offices already had pre-pandemic, will become more strictly enforced. Anything left on the desk at the end of the day should be removed, so that the workplace is kept clean and tidy. This will also ensure the shared seating is in a good state for the next user.
Wipe-in, wipe-out. It’s likely that workplace hygiene procedures will continue on an ongoing basis, even postpandemic. Organisations should provide bleach wipes throughout the office space, and require employees to wipe their desk down when they come in and before they leave to promote health and cleanliness in the office.
Overnight storage. Organizations should offer employees in shared desks with some space, such as a locker, where they can securely store a limited amount of work materials or personal items.
The offices for the hybrid workforce of the future will cater to fewer employees at once, said Shoham.
“Shared seating will be the way to avoid having the office feel like a ghost town when employees return,” she noted. “In the long-run, transitioning to shared seating is an important first step toward optimising the use of office space and preserving the many positive aspects of pre-pandemic office life.”