Originally published in Baltimore Business Journal on July 10, 2020
Written by Nathan Kooi, Vice President & General Manager | Mid-Atlantic | dancker

For most of us, the Coronavirus pandemic has meant discovering new ways to work, from sitting in your basement with a laptop to connecting to your colleagues and clients via Zoom meetings (some of which feature unexpected appearances from the kids or the family dog).

With businesses reopening, many hope we can put all of this behind us and simply get back to normal. Workplace experts, however, predict that is unlikely to happen. With many workers discovering they can be more productive at home than in the office, many companies are now projecting that as many as 60 percent of their employees may not return to an office setting on a full-time basis and some may never return at all.

Recognizing this emerging trend, successful business leaders also understand that, just like winning sports teams, great performance often results when the tangible talent and the intangible environment come together. Could a professional basketball team, wearing old Chuck Taylor canvas sneakers playing on a dirt court with chain-link hoops and a wood backboard win a championship?  Sure, but the edge they get from wearing the latest Air Jordans and running up and down a hard court equipped with the latest tools and technologies create a decided home court advantage.

In the same way, performance-based businesses throughout Baltimore are recognizing that place can be a powerful asset. With the pandemic advancing the concept that work is not something you go to but something you take with you wherever you are, some area businesses are recognizing that employees shouldn’t need to choose between the office and home. Rather, they need to redefine the balance between choice and control. Being face-to-face in a physical office space may not be necessary, but it remains important. In certain situations, we just aren’t optimized without proper social interaction and the kind of technology that only an office setting can provide.

With that in mind, businesses need to create office spaces that help their employees to optimize their work. While work may be portable, it is not a practice session. Results always matter, and competition for both clients and talent will continue to be fierce. Top businesses invest in optimal environments, resources, and people to succeed, just as leading sports teams demand the best facilities, equipment, and team members to win.

Leading business leaders are beginning to view the workplace as a destination where employees  go to optimize their own performance. Properly equipped, the office can and should play a critical role in maintaining a company’s competitive edge as the nexus for both group meetings and collaborations.

Going forward, offices are likely to see less people in the same space. Open areas will become more open, while private offices, higher screens, and larger private spaces will allow employees to maintain a safe distance from each other when collaborating. And while workstations and common surface areas are likely to be reduced, the range of work settings may actually increase to support more choice and control over how and where individuals work.

Local businesses are also likely to invest in having more amenities onsite, from outdoor spaces where employees can work to mind-and-body programs, wellness centers, and even medical offices.

Technology plays a key role in adapting office space to fit our new normal. From high-speed conferencing technologies to increased use of modular construction – a tech-driven, offsite construction method in which individual components such as walls, glass fronts, doors, power, data, and embedded technology are prefabricated in a factory and assembled on location – companies are likely to invest even more of their internal budgets in improvements designed to entice employees to work at least part-time in the office.

All of this should present some interesting opportunities for Baltimore workplaces. Baltimore has already distinguished itself for its ability to transform workspaces like the Can Company and the Broom Factory from their original purpose into spaces that fit today’s needs. Now, COVID-19 is forcing businesses to reconfigure themselves again. At the same time, forward thinking leaders are recognizing that just as there are different modes of transportation to get you where you need to go most efficiently, so too are there different work settings that enable employees to do their best work.

Nathan Kooi is Vice President and General Manager of dancker (www.dancker.com), a leading interior solutions firm working with clients to create spaces that maximize the flow between people and ideas by providing seamless integration of architectural, furniture, technology, and logistics solutions. Kooi leads dancker’s offices in Baltimore and Capitol Heights, MD.