For generations, the office has been both an important physical space of work and a symbol of North American working culture. It has dictated our daily lives – the way we work, socialize, and how we represent our working culture in the media.  

However, a post-pandemic landscape has the future of the office looking a lot different than the space that has occupied our working expectations for decades. In this article, the Schooley Mitchell team looks at the projected direction of the office, and whether or not it’s truly homeward bound.  

Did 2020 change the office forever?

Two years on, and it still feels like we are grappling between a supposed return to normalcy and a bigger push towards hybrid work. Can we really return to a traditional office setting? Many believe the answer is no.  

 Square Enix’s hybrid solution.

As reported by CBC, the Montréal location of Japanese video game developer Square Enix has approached the return to office on a person-by-person, voluntary basis. Beginning in September of 2021, it allowed staff to choose to return to the office or remain working from home.  

Of Square Enix Montréal’s approximate 150 employees, a mere 20 are working out of the office each day as of CBC’s report. The employees who did choose to return cited socialization, getting out of the house, and collaboration with colleagues as their biggest reasons behind their choice. 

 How do downsized offices accommodate staff?

Hybrid working solutions, like Square Enix has adopted, often mean a business can save on expenses by downsizing. In Square Enix’s case, one solution has been to reduce the number of machines and devices kept in the building. Since staff devices are largely kept at home, there is not a 1:1 ratio of devices to staff in the office. Instead, employees coming into the office book the use of a floating workstation for a given day. Believe it or not, there are even applications for enterprises that allow employees to collaboratively book workspaces and schedule days in the office.  

Canadian telco Telus is headed towards a similar setup when its offices reopen in 2022, with the vast majority of employees still expected to be working virtually. Telus’ director of people and culture, Jennifer Anquetil, told CBC that leadership is being encouraged to move toward a workplace environment where “the office is a place to collaborate and meet with team members, on whatever schedule ‘makes sense for the individual and their team.’” This will see huge changes for the company which employs 29,000 people across the country.  

 What are the real estate implications? 

Downsizing offices might see a change in the way businesses rent or lease properties. A typical commercial lease is signed in five- or ten-year periods. So, while not all companies who are looking to downsize their office spaces can immediately do so, many may be finding they’re looking for different spaces or solutions as their lease terms come to an end in coming years.  

What could this mean for the commercial real estate market? Could larger office buildings be sitting empty in the future? Not every company functions the same.  

While its important to listen to data and employees asking from virtual or hybrid solutions, your business does not have to conform to what others are doing play for play. As Forbes points out, the future of the office does not have to be a one-size-fits-all solution.  

Going fully or mostly virtual will not work for all companies, especially those with both highly collaborative and highly skilled roles. Forbes also says, “organizations that are more sales- and customer service-centric than many other industries need the human connection that makes their teams stronger and more nimble and promotes career growth.” 

 A hybrid model of work is certainly the future of the workplace, but what that hybrid looks like should depend on what is best for your business and your staff.  

 In conclusion… 

The future of the office is still uncertain. As many companies begin to downsize, re-imagine, or phase out the traditional concept of the office, others are still nonfunctional without this space. One thing is for sure, working culture is changing, and with that, so will the spaces it creates.