After two years of allowing their white-collar employees to work from home, many companies – including American Express, Disney and Apple – have told their employees to return to the office this spring, now that COVID-19 appears to be waning.
The question is how to lure back employees who have adjusted to working virtually and who particularly enjoy the work-life balance afforded by remote work.
“[Companies] still want to have people back in person at the office,” said Rebecca Lee, vice president of development for Baltimore-based office concierge service Simpli, formerly Charm City Concierge.
To make heading back to the office a more palatable and safer prospect, businesses and landlords are offering workspaces that are adapted to fit employees’ work styles, technologies that make office air healthier and services that promote wellness.
Kelly Ennis, founding and managing principal at The Verve Partnership, an interior architecture and design firm in Baltimore, helps clients conceptualize how best to use their office space.
Ennis said the firm – which has helped design shared workspaces at Spark and Betamore — specializes in helping clients develop plans and strategies to maximize space flexibility.
That means more than just determining how many private offices and workstations are needed, Ennis said, adding that designing a modern office requires companies to consider how they’ll use the space now and in the future.
New office designs don’t differ drastically from those pre-pandemic, Ennis said. The amount of shared, collaborative space is increasing to look and feel more like a coworking space, a shift that predates the pandemic, she added.
“Organizations realize the value in creating spaces where humans can interact in order to drive revenue,” Ennis said.
One office space factor that has surged in importance for workers since the pandemic is the quality of a building’s air, Ennis said: “I can plan and strategize all day, but I can’t help you if the air is nasty.”
Martin G. Knott Jr., founder of AIR LLC (Advanced Indoor Resources), sees substantial growth potential in providing improved air quality for buildings.
“Buildings need to get healthier and buildings need to get smarter,” said Knott, who launched his Baltimore-based firm last spring.
Knott said the technologies his firm installs can improve air quality in any building by monitoring and controlling things such as particulate matter in the air, odors caused by chemicals used in the building, temperature and humidity.
As firms prepare to welcome employees back to the office, the demand for AIR’s services is rising, Knott said.
“Every building is going to change,” Knott said. “Healthy building environments are here to stay.”
Some firms are looking to address more than an office’s physical environment to entice workers back to the office.
According to its website, Simpli offers its clients an app that “builds community, streamlines communication (and) increases engagement,” among other features.
Creating connections in the post-COVID-19 work environment is key, said Lee, adding that companies need to address employees’ overall health, especially given the mental health challenges of the last two years.