Best Practices – The Post-COVID Office – How organizations are managing return to work

The following content was originally published July 2021 on IBM’s Category Newsletter. 

The Post-COVID Office – Our New Normal

By Olivia L’Heureux

Category Manager – Facilities

With light at the end of the quarantine, Companies are preparing to bring worker’s back to the office.  Offices are being reconfigured to promote new safety protocols and make workers feel safe.

The biggest challenge in redesigning offices is balancing the need for community with infection control.  Each organization’s return to work program must strike a balance between physical, mental, and emotional safety.

A Shift in Focus

Before COVID, many organizations invested in their corporate spaces to promote open concepts, create shared and communal spaces, and allow for mobility.  Companies now need to reinvest to attract employees back to the office by creating a COVID safe environment.

According to industry leaders, reinvestment will come in waves.

Waves of Occupants

In the first wave approximately 50% of their pre-COVID occupants are expected to be back in the office.  During this wave, Companies will utilize pre-existing floorplan, furniture, and equipment with added features to assist with density control.

During the second wave, approximately 75% of pre-COVID occupants are expected back in the office.  This wave will introduce adaptable solutions that can move and change quickly.  We also expect to see smooth fabrics and surfaces that are easy to clean and deflect viruses.

The final stage will see approximately 90% of pre-COVID occupants returning to the office with some level of continued hybrid work model.  This stage encourages adaptability.  Office furniture will be able to shift and change within an open floor plan.  Hands free options for doors and additional tools for more video interactions.  Screens, panels, tall partitions and reconfigurations of floor plans will promote social distancing and single daily use hoteling stations will replace permanent workstations.

We expect these waves to happen gradually.  Company culture, business sector, and geography are all factors that will impact the pace of transition.


With the persistence of COVID-19 and the surge in new variants, organizations continue to push off return-to-work.  Smaller privately held organizations are back in the office, many with little to no change in their environments. 

Fortune 500 companies have been more cautious.  Many have adopted US Federal Government recommendation for a vaccine mandate, but dates for compliance have been relatively soft, pushing off return to office deadlines into 2022.

Organizations that have returned to work have done so mostly on an as-needed basis.  Manufacturing environments and maintenance staff are almost all back, but office workers are still operating remotely.

Many larger organizations have recognized the ability to operate remotely. Many of them have opted for permanent work from home. The decisions to remain remote have been further reinforced by job-seekers specifically looking for remote work opportunities.

Hybrid solutions have also emerged.  Organizations that allow part-time work from home have altered their work environments to include larger percentages of collaboration and meeting spaces (some as high as 60%).  Employees are permitted to work from home but their offices are open for business offering a myriad of meeting and collaboration rooms for them to come and meet with peers and customers.

Fresh ideas for how to use the work environment are changing Real Estate.  On the horizon, we still expect the fall-out from all that vacant office space to hit the market. When that happens we can expect landlords to get creative about how to utilize all of that space. 

For now the market remains status quo, but Corporations will eventually begin to sell-off or terminate leases.  This can be a boon for developers and companies that have returned to the office, but it could burst the Real Estate bubble for landlords.

You can download a pdf of the Facilities portion of IBM’s Category Newsletter by clicking the link below:

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