• Commercial Real Estate
  • Air Quality Monitoring
  • Commercial Building Energy Efficiency
  • COVID-19

Fostering Safe Collaboration in a Part-Time Office Space World

Jun 18, 2020


As the topic of reopening workspaces evolves, I keep coming back to a keynote speech I heard years ago from Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, at an industry event. It was the first time I heard about Hsieh’s theory of impactful collaboration and formalized workplace flexibility. At that time, it seemed earthshattering. Today, it should be a requirement. A thoughtful strategy that incorporates both technologies and process will protect the organic collaboration of the workplace and support the professional development and productivity of staff.

Collissionable Hours Encourage Greater Collaboration

There are significant challenges to creating and sustaining culture in a work-from-home era. In a recent article, Ezra Ferraz states, “Remote work, in short, is oriented toward maintaining or optimizing what the organization already does, rather than coming up with new ideas, strategies, and offerings. The latter is still best done face-to-face at an office in a particular way that is difficult but not impossible to approximate in a remote setting. This ideal form of in-person collaboration are not meetings as some might assume, but collisions.” Ferraz notes that those collisions are the brainchild of Hsieh, who aims for “1,000 collissionable hours” a year in his downtown Las Vegas entrepreneurial incubation community.

What do these 1,000 hours represent? About 25 weeks of office space time. If you believe in this theory, it’s great news for commercial real estate. Consider how 25 weeks works out for retaining office footprints if there is about 50% in-office time and 50% capacity reductions mandated for social distancing. Now consider overhead. If your space is used by 50% fewer people, is your overhead doubled? How does this all pencil out for financial planning? 

Google, the flagship of big tech firms that dangle amenities to keep employees at work, made headlines when it announced a $1,000 allowance per employee to build out home offices. The tech giant’s wellness and resilience lead explained the company’s innovative approaches to foster the same productivity, health, and collaboration best practices for employees at home. 

Don’t Forget Overhead in Flexible Work Strategies

The question of overhead may need to be reconsidered thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. The bottom-line impacts of public health and work are complex. Before the pandemic, executives were recognizing that the physical workplace has become integral to brand and investment in technology and that sustainability translates into attracting and retaining top talent. The value proposition of smart building solutions is even more compelling. Effective offerings integrate automation and control, sensing, communications, and analytics to translate rich datasets into space use insights that are even more critical in today’s economic and public health realities. Such offerings include the following:

  • Space utilization tools that can monitor density to support compliance with social distancing guidelines.
  • Indoor air quality offerings can monitor and control HVAC performance to meet new ASHRAE COVID-19 preparedness resources.
  • Hoteling apps can be used to coordinate in-office planning, which can be valuable for ensuring employees across functions and levels are in place at the same time to foster those “collissionable hours.”

While companies like Twitter and Square have committed to long-term remote work, even “work from home forever,” there remains a strong argument for office workspaces. The results of Guidehouse’s Executive Pulse Survey Findings: Impacts of COVID-19 found that more than half of respondents reported “transitioning toward business as usual productivity,” and only 14% reported they “will go back to mostly centralized work.” The future workplace is still being designed, but a thoughtful approach to technology and processes can ensure businesses can comply with public health necessities while protecting and even enhancing a culture of collaboration.