The office isn't dead. But the office as you once knew it is never coming back.
It's time to say goodbye to the familiar idea of an office--a single, static space with assigned desks, aging technology, and a bias toward employees who commute to work five days a week, says Hamid Hashemi, the chief product and experience officer at co-working space company WeWork.
"The concept of headquarters in the way that we're all used to it--I don't think it's going to exist in the future," says Hashemi, who spoke with Inc. editor-in-chief Scott Omelianuk about the future of the workplace at Inc.'s Vision Summit virtual event on Wednesday. WeWork, once a wildly popular fast-growing unicorn, lost $3.2 billion in 2020 and now is widely expected to go public in a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) at a valuation of $9 billion, according to a CNBC report.
Hashemi described how the company is revamping its 800-plus locations around the world to incorporate the two elements it predicts will be most in demand in post-pandemic workspaces: flexibility and collaboration.
If you're wondering how to reconfigure your office for the post-pandemic world, WeWork's plans hold a host of ideas.
Most companies are eager to bring workers back together, Hashemi says, but a good many are hesitant to enter into long-term leases. Some aren't even sure how many of their employees will be onsite at a given time. What will that mean for your office? WeWork now allows clients to rent offices and even individual desks for any length of time--not just on an annual basis. It also introduced "all-access" memberships that let people work from any of its locations for a flat monthly fee. Companies can buy these for employees in addition to renting desks at a particular location, for even greater flexibility.
What's more, WeWork is designing its new spaces to be modular. They'll include freestanding private offices, complete with air-quality sensors and noise-canceling, that can be built or disassembled in a single day, according to Hashemi.
"Think of it as LEGO pieces," he says.
Videoconferencing services like Zoom aren't particularly conducive to collaboration, Hashemi says, but they're here to stay, so it'll be crucial to integrate them more effectively into in-person meetings. WeWork is adding larger screens on its conference rooms' walls and more cameras on the tables.
Zoom-friendly conference rooms will make it easier, for example, for salespeople to read attendees' body language during a presentation, he says. Each room can also be rearranged into a classroom setup. WeWork is even rolling out holographic technology at its locations to let organizations host global events without having to cram hundreds of people into one building.
The office of the future might also incorporate more of the activities that workers previously did before and after work, according to Hashemi. At WeWork spaces, each lobby, or "center of gravity," is being turned into a marketplace with extras like food delivery areas, laundry facilities, and Amazon lockers. Those marketplaces will be open to everyone who works in the same building, not just WeWork members.
The pandemic presents an opportunity for companies to rethink not only their physical offices, but their entire approach to work, Hashemi says.
"Crisis is good," he says. "It's a time when you can reinvent yourself and take a really hard look at things that you do, and you prepare yourself for the future."