Business Stabilization

COVID-19 Real Estate: Rethinking Office Space and Going Back to Work

When COVID-19 caused a nationwide lockdown, companies swiftly acted to safeguard their employees while attempting to maintain business continuity. Across the nation, employees started working from home, leaving office buildings partially empty and creating unforeseen COVID-19 real estate impacts.

Almost a year later, life after COVID-19 is starting to become a reality. As more employees return to the office, a pressing question arises for financial planning and analysis teams: “How much space do we need, and how do we make it happen?” In order to answer that question, companies need to consider a few key factors before making the move.

COVID-19 Real Estate Reassessment: Physical Workplace vs. Home Office

Conventional wisdom, prior to COVID-19, emphasized that offices are critical for productivity, culture, growth and employee experience. But when the pandemic started, work shifted from the corporate space to the home office. As a result, organizations are left to wonder how much of the critical factors carry into the home. To assess, consider the following questions:

  • Are our employees able to be more productive at home?
  • Are our team members still able to collaborate successfully?
  • Do our employees still feel the corporate culture while working remotely?
  • Do employees still feel they are learning and developing?

Learn more about considerations of working from home in our recent blog:A Look at WFH Effectiveness for Finance and Accounting Teams

Before Making Decisions on Post-COVID 19 Real Estate, Try an Employee Survey

The input of those that are able, and have worked from home, is a valuable data point. Asking soft questions gives insight on how employees view their current work environment and what they expect when they return to the office. Some topics to consider on a survey:

  • Productivity Level
  • Working from Home vs. in the Office
  • Technology Challenges and Adoption
  • Work and Life Balance
  • Sense of Corporate Community/Culture
  • Safety

Reviewing the Lease Agreement

Even before COVID-19, real estate was typically an expensive line item for most companies. Rent is a high fixed cost and does not easily go away. Being familiar with the lease agreement puts facts on the table for consideration, especially when space planning. A few key items to look for in the lease agreement:

  • When is the lease up?
  • Is there an option to sublease?
  • Is there an option to increase or decrease rental space?

Want to learn about real estate impairments? Check out our blog: “A 3-Step Plan to Identify, Recognize and Measure Real Estate Impairment

Aligning to the Business

While determining the amount of space needed, it is critical to align with the business. This is not limited to the short-term and long-term goals of the company, but also includes corporate culture, learning and development, and the level of productivity. It also includes how the companies view work-from-home and what policies comes into play for remote employees. At the end of the day, office space needs to run in sync with the corporate roadmap.

Creating Workspaces Employees Can Trust

Employees need to feel that the office they are returning to is safe. One of the most important factors to consider, post-pandemic, is an environment where individuals feel comfortable and productive. Since each employee’s experience during the pandemic has been different, management needs to be empathetic to each person’s role in the company, individual health, home situation and personal work style.

Adding additional space can provide a higher sense of security for team members. This would allow flexibility for employees to rearrange their spaces in a manner that aligns with their comfort zones.

COVID-19 Real Estate Realities: Know the Space

Collecting all the facts and addressing all the factors will make it possible to generate a mock floor plan. Whether it requires a new space or revitalizing the existing one, the information collected illustrates the amount of space needed to provide a safe and productive environment for individuals when they return to the office. This step is an important one, as it turns what can be abstract conceptualization into potential realities based on the real space offered in your workplace.

Costing, Team Assembly and Execution

Any form of move, build-out, reconfiguration and space reduction has associated costs driven by the types and amount of services needed. Below are a few things to consider when planning any form of real estate adjustment:

  • TI/Buildout
  • Movers
  • Move Coordinator/Project Manager
  • Furniture, Cubicles or Cubicle Adjustments
  • IT Infrastructure Cost and Office Security

As the planning and execution phase begins, it is important to also consider the following:

  • Identify and engage internal stakeholders early in the planning process.
  • Make sure all stakeholders understand the objectives and are clear about the goals in order to mitigate ideas that do not support underlying needs.
  • Make sure all parties align from the very beginning. This includes not only the employees, but also the contractors and vendors.

If all goes well, the final cost should come in line with the original estimate and the unwelcomed surprises stays at a minimum.

Learn more about returning to work for accounting and finance teams:Return to Work Planning for Accounting and Finance

Get Consulting Support

If you need support in financial planning and analysis, or would like insight into developing COVID-19 real estate or return to work plans, our team of 90+ accounting and finance consultants can help in a project execution or interim management capacity. We also offer services specific to this unique time of business:

business stabilization and contingency planning services

If you’d like to keep up with us, we also invite you to subscribe to our blog to receive emails when we post new insights.

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