How new habits are changing our workplace

The city of Santa Clarita has added plexiglass shields at City Hall to protect employees and residents, one of a number of measures implemented to help keep visitors safe while continuing in-person access to vital services. PHOTO COURTESY City of Santa Clarita

One thing is for sure as we look toward the future of office space: change.

For most, a healthy office or workspace is a social atmosphere — try and remember the proverbial water-cooler gathering, the communal donuts we all love to share in the morning or the huddling around a conference table. 

And yet almost all of these aspects of office life, some of which are obviously more beloved than others, are definitely going to look different.

While many if not most have been telecommuting from home for the last 11 months or so — largely thanks to Zoom, Microsoft Team Meetings, Google Meet, et al — at some point, many of us will have to rejoin the world of commuters. 

Trends and cautions

Until more people are safer and secure returning back to the way things were, our new normal is likely to involve an ever-changing series of regulations for our space, as no business owner wants to be responsible for an employee or a customer catching COVID-19.

Business consulting firm McKinsey noted that as early as last April, about 62% of working Americans were doing so from home — and 80% of those surveyed stated they enjoyed working from home.

“Many organizations think they can access new pools of talent with fewer locational constraints, adopt innovative processes to boost productivity, create an even stronger culture and significantly reduce real-estate costs,” according to a McKinsey report on office trends published on its website last June, which also notes that while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. 

And part of this shift in culture can already be seen in some of the newer designs that started to develop before the pandemic.

Vista Canyon in Canyon Country, which is one of the Santa Clarita Valley’s latest commercial and residential developments, was designed to incorporate many of the newer aspects in mind, according to developer Jim Backer of JSB Development. 

Operable windows, more outdoor space and an “open-roof system” are just a few of the design elements incorporated into the project, in addition to making the workspace more centrally located with respect to creating walkable attractions to allow people more opportunity to work, live and play in the same area without the need to commute.

While economics can play a significant role in choosing an area, people are also looking more into what they need and want out of that space, he added.

“Buildings need some reinvention,” Backer said, “they need to be reconsidered and reflect what people want in their offices now. … Part of it is how people choose to operate.”

He also noted that reopening spaces to the roofline (which also creates more airflow) is going to be more common, and people also enjoy seeing building features, such as a truss system, which can give a development a more “industrial look.”

“I think that the offices are much more open, they’re more free-flowing and connected,” he explained, adding that window placement has become more “egalitarian” in the sense that it’s more available to everyone in newer projects. 

City Hall service

At Santa Clarita City Hall, for example, city officials wanted to make sure they could still provide help for residents as much as possible, while also keeping their office space safe for staff and guests.  

“For the city, we just want to make sure we’re providing the same level of service for our residents,” said Carrie Lujan, city of Santa Clarita communications manager, while making sure that we’re keeping our staff and the residents safe.”

In addition to removing high-touch surfaces, such as vending machines, the city installed an ultraviolet disinfectant to its HVAC systems and keeping a close watch on the number of people circulating through City Hall’s higher-trafficked areas, such as the city’s permit center, to make sure the number of people who check in stay within the safely allowable figure. 

Location, location, location

A bit of especially good news for the Santa Clarita Valley is that the decentralized approach that more and more businesses are using is a boon for family-friendly communities like the SCV, which are considered more desirable places to live.

Time was, cutting down on the commute was an important part of the decision for where you’d pick your place of residence, so a commute from a location farther from Downtown Los Angeles, for example, could be a challenge. But now that employers are seeing the benefits and capability for more remote work, that’s becoming less and less of a priority, and people are moving here and establishing more satellites, for lack of a better term, locations, without much of a central hub.

“What we are seeing, and are going to continue to see — if you look at the research, the polling, the surveying, that many real estate professionals are doing — is that we’re likely to end up in a hybrid,” said Holly Schroeder, president and CEO of the SCV Economic Development Corp., describing the shaping of the new dynamic as having “changes in how often people go to the office. … So you might have it where … people go in a couple times a month, a couple times a week, depending on the nature of the business. And then where that office is and what that office looks like is predicted to change.” 

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