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As the health metrics in Orange County thankfully have improved since summer, many executives and employees are anxious to return to pre-pandemic activities, including returning to the office.
Before the pandemic hit, just one in 10 employees worked from home on a regular basis, according to Gensler Research Institute’s “U.S. Work From Home Survey 2020.”
Now, with plenty of time to render judgment on the experience, just 12% want to remain at home full-time once it’s safe to return to the office.
They miss interacting with colleagues, impromptu and scheduled meetings, mentoring and shared work experiences, the report found.
Companies miss it, too, as that’s often where and when innovation is born.
The Way Back
Executives and employees want to come back safely, with confidence.
At the Irvine Company, we’ve always focused on wellness to meet the needs of our more than 3,000 customers.
Our workplaces use advanced, highly-efficient MERV filtration and ventilation systems, maximizing air circulation and fresh air exchange. We offer the most outdoor-indoor workspaces in the industry.
Since March, customers have been directed to move around our buildings and workplace communities in a manner intentionally designed for physical distancing.
Our entryways and exits, including elevators, now mostly operate without anything needing to be touched. We’ve added hundreds of sanitizing stations. And our operations team disinfects common areas throughout the day beyond the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines.
To validate and enhance our protocols, we partnered with UCI Health. The world-renowned health enterprise’s chief epidemiologist assured us that with the right practices and protocols in place, companies can safely return to the office.
The Creative Workspace
In ongoing discussions and surveys with customers, it’s clear that many companies are starting to think creatively about workspace solutions – spaces with more flexible lease terms, for example, or smaller suburban offices versus a large downtown headquarters, or outdoor meetings versus indoor or assurances that the ventilation and air filtration systems are state-of-the-art, like ours.
Companies also are considering hybrid solutions, such as bringing smaller teams in on different days or rotating employees week-to-week between in-office and remote work. Others are expanding their footprints to meet recommended physical distancing guidance. Still, others are prioritizing spacious, thoughtfully designed team areas as an antidote to remote work burnout and social isolation.
As companies seek more flexibility from their workspaces, many also want more flexibility in their leasing arrangements. They are increasingly exploring turnkey flex spaces that enable them to quickly scale up – or down – as their business cycles and workforce sizes dictate.
The Irvine Company has played a leading role in shepherding these evolving trends in workplace communities.
As one example, in 2019 we introduced Flex Workspace+, a program that offers companies of all sizes an uncommon degree of flexible leasing terms, starting at six months, along with imaginative and custom workspace configurations and a breadth of amenities that provide a healthy work-life balance for employees.
The new leasing program is supported by more than 1,000 well-equipped outdoor open-air meeting and gathering spaces that we call The Commons. At each of these outdoor workspaces, we offer high-speed wi-fi with broad coverage to support outdoor meetings, presentations and more. We designed and provided them well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But now, thanks to their ability to be easily utilized with physical distancing, they are sure to become increasingly important meeting and gathering hubs in the months and years to come.
While it’s true that no one can predict the future, we can and should prepare for it as best we can, using the new resources at our disposal and past experience as a guide.
As long-term planners, Irvine Company is committed to positioning the Orange County business community for success today, tomorrow and beyond. And as companies ultimately come back to their workplaces safely and with confidence, we’ll be there to say, “Welcome back.”
Editor’s Note: Steve Case is executive vice president of Irvine Company Office Properties, where he is responsible for the company’s 50 million square feet of office properties in Orange County, San Diego, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.