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Get ready to return to a (very different) office

December 9, 2020, 4:52 PM UTC
Office Space-Huawei
Huawei employees eat their lunch in a cafeteria at the company's headquarters in Shenzhen in China's southern Guangdong province on May 18, 2020.
NOEL CELIS—AFP/Getty Images

Welcome to Worksheet, a new newsletter about how people are working smarter in these turbulent times.

In this second edition of Worksheet, columnist S. Mitra Kalita explores what the post-pandemic office may look like.


There’s no going back to what was. The last nine months have forced a drastic reset of work, home and all points in between. The upheaval in commercial real estate allows companies to be pickier about their needs, from open windows to lower employee-to-bathroom ratios. An uncertain pandemic economy means expansion for some sectors and downsizing for others. And studies show that more than one-fifth of adults moved due to COVID or know someone who did; how this affects their desire or ability to commute remains another unknown. 

“The location of the office space may not change much,” said Carmen Perkins, executive vice president of Civitas Commercial Real Estate Services LLC, based in Washington, D.C. “It’s the utilization of that space that changes.”

Post-pandemic offices will focus more singularly on creating and representing the culture of a company. That mission will drive physical spaces with more breakout rooms and gathering spots. It will dictate who comes to the office and why. Reasons to convene: onboarding, training, meetings, team-building and collaboration. 

“We are the quintessential tech company. We have the most flexible work schedule, ambitious paternity and maternity programs, unlimited vacation,” rattled off Nick Romito, the founder and CEO of VTS, a commercial real-estate technology platform. “Even as liberal as we are to give people their flexibility, it’s still really hard. You invest all this time in building a really good team, those teams want to be together. Pushing ideas out of each other is really hard to do when you’re staring at a screen all day.”


Kalita goes on to explore four other surprising ways the ways we use office space is changing.

Read the full column here.

Let us know what you think of Worksheet, tell us what you’d like to read about in future columns, or share what challenges you’re facing at your own workplace. Reach us at smarterworking@fortune.com.

What else we're reading this week...

Nice "coatigan"

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Why in the future your background check could include whether or not you've had the COVID vaccine. (CNBC)

Can't catch a break

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Marital benefits

If the pandemic is taking a toll on your relationship, here's a twist: some employers are covering couples therapy. (Seattle Times) 

An American tragedy

Success is not happiness—and other lessons from Zappos founder Tony Hsieh's remarkable life and tragic death. (Forbes)