We’ve all heard it by now: the office space is dead. It’s no secret that COVID-19 has radically altered the notion of what it means to have a working space, with the commercial real estate industry navigating new waters. As more and more companies begin to establish work-from-home policies, entrepreneurs and employees alike are starting to wonder whether a “normal” return to the office will ever be possible. With more than 500 operating start-ups that call it home, Berlin is no exception to the effects of social distancing, with the majority of employees now switching to home-office for the foreseeable future. But what does that mean for the office ecosystem in the city?
Berlin is often called the city where a start-up is founded every 20 minutes—and it’s not just start-ups that have been the lynchpin of the city’s booming real estate market. Old players and new players alike exist in the city’s dynamic real estate market, a digital-centric ecosystem defined by its open-office architecture, hip kitchens, and Altbau windows. A new generation of employees and entrepreneurs alike crave having a unique space for their employees, and Berlin has always held on to the possibility of a new idea of what it means to have an office.
Enter COVID-19: has the pandemic permanently shut down the office space in Berlin? It’s hard to imagine such a digital hub without any workspaces at all. That’s precisely why the pandemic presents the perfect time to re-think what the office space means. It’s an unseemingly auspicious moment to understand its importance in cultivating the unique work culture that companies have in Berlin. By understanding how employees and entrepreneurs alike can adapt to the office space during the pandemic, COVID-19 can provide a totally new imagination for what it means to have an office in Berlin.
Here are three ways how we can re-imagine the office space during the current pandemic:
1. Understand the needs of your employees
First thing’s first: it’s our duty to make our employees feel comfortable in the office space—especially by making sure that the working space is safe and hygienic, all the while respecting social distancing measures. Increasing the availability of disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizers is a no-brainer, and be sure everyone knows how to use them adequately. Office managers should also improve professional cleaning and disinfecting routines within the office to kill bacteria and germs in the workplace.
But it’s also imperative to understand your employees’ particular needs. Consider the following scenario: Robert, the Senior Product Manager, often catches a cold, and prefers to work from home. On the other hand, Maria, the UX Designer, prefers to work in the office because it’s easier for her to coordinate her projects. Robert and Maria are, of course, very different people, both affected very differently by the pandemic. It’s important to take both into account: whether it’s sending out surveys or having your HR team talk to your employees, understanding that the working space is there to accommodate all types of employees is essential during this period.
2. Take a proactive approach
There’s no question: being proactive during the current crisis is imperative. But proactive doesn’t mean rash—it can actually mean being gradual. There’s no question that COVID-19 has created uncertainty in the real estate market, but entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs should consider the many options available to lease or rent at the current juncture. With a total of 50 employees, Brand A, for example, may be hesitant in renting out space as they begin to de-scale their team—an unfortunate scenario ubiquitous with the onset of COVID-19. But Brand B, an e-commerce company, is scaling quickly, helped by the fortuitous circumstances spurred on by the crisis. What’s the unifying thread here?
Whether you’re decisive or ambivalent, there are myriad options in the Berlin real estate market for both types of companies—smaller offices, short-term leases, and open spaces. It’s important to conceptualize the pandemic in both short-term and long-term strokes: right now, the office space may seem unthinkable; but as social distancing measures ease, an adaptable space may be the perfect fit. Being proactive and gradual helps you understand the possibilities of what it means to have an office in the post-COVID-19 world.
3. Re-conceptualize what the office means
One of the things that you can never replace working from home is the social interaction that working spaces foster. Going for a coffee with your colleague in the afternoon, having a weekly team lunch, or going for a beer after a sprint—these are the kinds of moments that define community in the office space. If you’re currently working from home in Berlin, there’s a high probability you miss these moments—and if you’re an Office Manager or a CEO, there’s a high chance you’re worried that these will never be possible again. Although COVID-19 may re-define how we approach our colleagues in the working space, one thing is for sure: it hasn’t eroded is the desire of all working people to disseminate ideas, collaborate on projects, share a laugh, and feel inspiration from being in one another’s company.
What does this mean on the ground? CEOs and entrepreneurs looking for a working space now have the opportunity to re-design the actual physical contours of the office—and they need not be the wacky prototypes that some businesses are considering. Following social-distancing guidelines, offices could become safe-spaces, where employee rotations help coordinate the use of meeting rooms, desk spaces, and communal kitchens—all the while preserving the importance of social interaction. The sheer variety in Berlin’s real estate ecosystem—the different types of office spaces from Kreuzberg to Charlottenburg—should invigorate companies to think outside the box about what the office space means in the first place. The desire for community has the potential to radically re-define the future of the workspace.