World Reimagined

Building the Optimal Post-Pandemic Workplace

Joy at Work
Credit: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Getting people back to the office is an ongoing challenge for companies.

As of mid-July, the average occupancy across 10 major metro areas was less than 40%, according to Kastle’s Back to Work Barometer. Across the board, rates were down between 2.5% and 5.6%, a reflection of both rising COVID rates and ongoing reluctance by workers to go back to the days of commuting and 9-to-5.

For companies, that presents a problem. Whether workers are showing up regularly or not, lease payments are still due and it is costing tens of millions of dollars per month.

But a new report from McKinsey suggests that the office doesn’t have to be a cost center for companies in whatever phase this might be of the pandemic world. It can actually be a competitive advantage.

“The right approach to real estate can help companies not only to grapple with the universal challenges arising in the pandemic’s wake but also to achieve their corporate goals,” the study reads. “Marrying strategy to real estate requires a deep analysis of a company’s needs, as well as data to inform decisions. These decisions are best managed by top strategic thinkers guided by the CEO—a departure from the way companies have traditionally made real-estate choices.”

The days of cubicle farms and open office plans aren’t sustainable. Increasingly, some companies are scaling back on individual desk seats in favor of conference seats, with an expectation of a more hybrid workforce. Others are creating individual or small group spaces where at-work employees can find some of the privacy they’ve gotten used to in the days of working from home.

Dropbox (DBX), for instance, had offices in San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, New York and Dublin in the pre-pandemic days. In the fall of 2020, it declared itself a “virtual first” company, letting those workers who preferred to work remotely do so moving forward, but also adjusting offices to allow for flexibility.

Some offices were converted into what it calls Dropbox Studios, which are used for collaborative work, team events and training. Most desks were removed, and conference rooms have flexible wall systems and movable furniture, meaning the space can grow or shrink as needed.

In other spaces, it added a café, letting employees recharge, and upgraded its videoconferencing technology so remote and in-person workers are on an even playing field.

“Human connection is a foundational part of our strategy, and studios play an important role in facilitating that,” Terry Wiener, head of virtual first for engineering, product and design at Dropbox, told McKinsey. “We’re excited about what we’ll learn in the months and years ahead.”

Other companies, like biopharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences (GILD), began rethinking their offices before COVID-19 hit. After the pandemic hit, the company sunk money into a redesign meant to improve workflow, with the discovery, research, development and manufacturing teams working in spaces that blend naturally from one to the other. New laboratory and research facilities follow a similar layout.  It also built a state-of-the-art 65,000 square foot well-being center, with physical- and mental health resources, a gym, and meditation areas.

The rooms are enabled so employees can instantly videoconference someone in, with multiple high-definition screens and one-touch equipment (as well as augmented reality glasses), enabling collaboration with workers across the world.

Looking to make your office a competitive advantage? There are a few steps you’ll need to take.

Know what moments matter: When does togetherness improve a situation? Is it during onboarding? Brainstorming? Water-cooler chats that spawn innovation? Figure those out, then redesign your office to take advantage of those.

Forget a point person. Focus on a point team: Rather than putting the decision-making process on one person’s shoulders, assemble a committee that has different decision makers, who might not fall back on (or even know about) traditional methods in commercial real estate. The world has changed, so thinking about offices needs to as well.

Upgrade your technology: Some critical workers will be hybrid when you need them, so invest in things like brighter, better-positioned monitors, high quality microphones (versus a speaker phone) and virtual whiteboards.

Make the office enjoyable: Amenities are back in favor as people consider venturing back into the office. Small things like a gym, access to food and drink and outdoor spaces with walking areas can be a significant incentive for people who have worked out of their spare bedroom for the past two years.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Chris Morris

Chris Morris is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience, more than half of which were spent with some of the Internet’s biggest sites, including, where he was Director of Content Development, and Yahoo! Finance, where he was managing editor. Today, he writes for dozens of national outlets including Digital Trends, Fortune, and

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