Has the pandemic killed the office? No, say Diane Hoskins and Andy Cohen, co-CEOs of Gensler, the world’s largest architecture firm. But while the office may not be dead, it is going to be very different in the post-COVID future.
The firm’s research shows only 14% of workers want to stay home full time. “A majority are saying they want back. They have roommates, they have parents, they have dogs,” says Cohen. But the offices they return to will be more of “a hybrid kind of work environment, with some people at home, but many at the office. And it will be all about collaboration and innovation.”
“What’s the big AHA?“ asks Hoskins. “It’s that the ultimate value of the workplace is people. Why do people want to be there? At the end of the day we are there because of the other people that are there…Think of the workplace as a clubhouse.”
Interestingly, Cohen and Hoskins don’t foresee a huge drop in demand for overall office square footage. While offices may have fewer people in them, those people will need more room—a desire for “de-densification” that started even before the pandemic, but has clearly been accelerated by it.
“If you do the math, it is about 94% of what they do today,” says Hoskins. But “we need to design the space slightly differently, given what we know. There are people who will want to work from home, there are people who will want to work two days from home, and there are people who want to work three days from home. It will be a more individualized workplace.”
The locations could also be different. “How do you start to create places where people live, that are nearby, that you can get to in 15 minutes?”
And technology will change the experience, as well. The firm is focusing on creating “touchless and frictionless space,” says Cohen. “We are working on apps that allow you to check in, will already know what floor you are going to, will help navigate you in the space, to keep you socially distant.”
Hoskins and Cohen have shared the top job at the global architecture firm since 2005—a rare co-CEO success story. “We are both architects, and architecture is a team sport,” says Hoskins (Frank Lloyd Wright and Ayn Rand notwithstanding.) “The issue is how you work with another human being, respect them, how you make decisions. We have solved that problem.”