The prevailing COVID-19 pandemic has opened the frontiers for bold workplaces. To be fair, there were changes in the realty sector over the years that have resulted in large airy workspaces, open offices, and bright interiors in India even before the outbreak of the global pandemic. But the pandemic stymied further progress and emptied out offices as employees were forced to telecommute or Work from Home (WFH) which has become the new normal.

Our recent report Home and Away: The New Hybrid workplace? revealed that when the pandemic struck, around 66 percent of employees in India shifted to the new work culture of WFH. It is interesting to note the observations of employees who had to adjust to this new normal. The report highlights that around 30 percent of the working population felt the lockdown had given them an enhanced opportunity to balance their work and life, whereas a whopping 41 percent said they miss the professional work environment that is prevalent in organizations.

One positive outcome of the pandemic is that it has fast-tracked the agenda of sustainability, technology and employee engagement for solutions from a business continuity point of view. The investment in safety and hygiene must be accelerated even further from earlier accepted levels. We are seeing a change in the design of workspaces to accommodate the different needs of employees. This will lead to organizations focusing on ‘more conscious’ or what we would call humane centric workspaces. With social distancing being practiced for one’s own and others' safety as well, the psychological safety of employees has taken center stage.

Changes in the workplace will get a boost when the hardware in offices gets transformed. Think touchless technology. The focus is expected to be on the three ‘Ds’- Design, Density, and Disaster management. The element of design will focus on touchless technology and wellness in buildings. Densification will be focused on space per person, while disaster management will be about preparedness to manage pandemic-like circumstances.

With prolonged work from home, many have started questioning whether offices will continue to exist. Even though businesses now realize that few roles can continue to work from home, in a knowledge-centric economy, a workplace stands for much more – a hub of collaboration, innovation, and culture which is hard to replicate in a remote working environment.

The office is here to stay however, workplaces will have to be re-imagined as social hubs repurposed, or redesigned work areas will be required to provide infrastructure for collaboration among the split teams of remote and on-site staff.

Corporate real estate facilitators, who earlier were more active on the operational side, have now become strategic decision-making partners concerned with safe spaces and hygiene requirements made mandatory by the global pandemic.

As and when organizations open and slowly ease employees back into the office, the main concern for everyone would be health and safety. Office design, in addition to functionality and aesthetics, will have to consider the third critical element—physical and psychological safe spaces for all.