The New Normal – Part 1: Human-centric Work Environment

The pandemic has forced the world to radically alter its view on the future state of business and especially on the concept of “the work environment”. 

The new normal is the simultaneous formation of two related elements: first, the human-centric work environment, workspaces designed for the wellness of human beings, and second, the network of these environments through remote work and the use of technology. 

People and businesses have come to understand the importance of health in relation to work environments. Workers in offices have always had a higher risk of becoming sick due to, larger numbers of people in a confined space, stress on ventilation capacity, and lack of sufficient sanitation guidelines to name a few. Many businesses tended to pay minimal attention to these issues. As a consequence, higher sick rates cost them productivity, time and money.  Going forward, with the return to office workspaces, they will need to put a higher priority on these concerns. People now know the health benefits of working in a pleasant and supportive environment like the one they created while working from home and will now expect it when they return to offices. 

People and businesses are realizing that environmental factors, even when not related to COVID, such as natural light, office layouts that encourage walking, and biophilic elements such as indoor plants are important. Having these elements and others will make working in formal offices again after the pandemic more inviting and supportive of the newly increased health consciousness.  

Well-being and Productivity 

Businesses are paying more attention to the increasing amounts of scientific data proving that healthy workspaces and work environments contribute to productivity and employee retention which is directly related to their bottom line.

In the New Normal, work environments that are good for the body and mind will become a requirement to reduce cost and increase productivity. Certification systems such as WELL Building Standard, by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), will become standard. (Full disclosure, Yoko Kawai is an advisor to IWBI Research Advisory).

Networked Workplaces and Work-Life Balance 

Workplaces of various types, including home offices and other remote work locations, will be networked. By the end of 2021, 25 to 30 percent of the entire workforce in the United States will be working at home more than twice a week. 

One of the factors supporting this trend is that workers wish to continue working from home. In data published in May 2020, 77% of the workforce stated that they want to continue working from home part of the time when the pandemic is over.  They wish to do so to have better work-life balance. Working from home provides freedom to create your own schedule, design your workspace for desired work-life balance and aesthetics. It offers opportunities to live or stay in places where you have more exposure to nature, cleaner air and open spaces, and allows for more connection within communities.  

Ecosystem of Workplaces

The willingness and commitment of businesses are major factors in the continuation, expansion, and adoption of remote working. This pandemic has made it abundantly clear that remote work is essential for business continuity in the time of disasters. It has been proven that remote work increases employee productivity. Operational expenses, such as real-estate costs, are also dramatically reduced with less reliance on large office spaces or buildings in city centers.  

As a natural result of these findings, businesses are now creating networked workplaces consisting of smaller main offices, satellite offices in suburbs, and employee home offices.

An added benefit of having multiple places of production and service is that it makes a company more agile in adapting to the ever-changing business world. Also, the availability of extensive real time data on real estate (i.e., Proptech – technology relating to the industry) and the work environment supports better strategic planning of networked ecosystems.

Going forward, the planning of the work environment will become a main component of overall business planning, and not just a secondary concern. 

Our next article will continue with the new normal from the technological perspective.

(Written by Yoko Kawai and Yvonne Burton)