The New Normal: What that Means for a Return to the Office

Breakfast with the Chairman

DuPage County business leaders gathered on Wednesday, July 28 for an intimate, roundtable session focusing on ‘The New Normal’ and what that means as we begin returning to the office. The event was moderated by Janet Lougee, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, Vice President, Director of Interiors for Wight & Company.

Chairman Cronin opened the discussion with words of thanks for the business leaders assembled. He praised their outstanding cooperation with the DuPage County Health Department and noted the efforts to re-open safely and encourage safe public health practices within their companies.

Following Chairman Cronin, Janet led a presentation and discussion about Wight & Company’s experiences working with corporate clients. She outlined various options for the “new” office environment and a return to the office.


Where is the workplace now?

Back in 2018, workplaces were being designed to attract and retain talent. The workplace experience was focused on collaboration and offered choices as to where you could work (i.e., private office, café, hoteling space, etc.) But while mobility in the office was up, being able to work outside the office, remained flat.

In 2020, there was a shift to balancing work modes – offices need spaces to receive and greet guests, collaborate with one another, focus on individual work, rejuvenate to recharge mentally, and socialize with one another. Additionally, the quality of the environment, things like light and air quality, and other sustainable features came to the forefront as valued elements in the workspace.

While many of these trends will remain, the following are the critical topics of workplaces today:

  • Hybrid occupancy
  • Technology
  • Safety and wellness
  • Culture
  • User experience
  • Inclusion and fairness
  • Co-working or “hub & spoke” models as real estate alternatives

What does the data say?

According to Leesman, a UK consulting firm that specializes in benchmarking employee experiences in the workplace, employees rate things like confidential discussions, video conferences and phone calls to be better at home. Better at the office are things like hosting clients, learning from others, using special equipment and informal social interaction, though none seem to outrank the work from home activities. The study goes on to say that 75% of work-from-home employees are highly satisfied.

According to a research and consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, employees want the option to work from home and estimate that 25-30% of the workforce will work remotely by 2021. In a survey conducted by Owl Labs, 92% of people expect to work from home at least one day per week. Other survey findings indicate that more than a third of respondents said they would quit if asked to work in the office 100%.

How is it going?

After presenting the data, and sharing some of the perspectives from large employers, Janet asked several questions to gauge the practices among people in the room:

  • Do you think your company will embrace a hybrid work model permanently?
    Nearly every hand in the room was raised.

  • How many of you have gone back to the office?
    Nearly every hand in the room was raised.

  • How many of you feel your program is working?
    50% of the room raised their hand.

  • How many of you have embraced a slow re-entry into the workplace (i.e., the first month, return one day a week, second month, return two days a week, etc….)?
    A small percentage of hands raised.

  • How many have implemented mandatory days (i.e., three days in the office, set days)?
    Nearly 50% of the room raised their hand.

  • How many have implemented a return policy by job function (i.e., non-essential vs. essential workers having different plans)?
    Nearly 50% of the room raised their hand.

Ultimately, Janet stressed that the time to act is now. The office must remain a dynamic and viable space for the experience of our people. The “new normal” workplace strategies encourage a balance between remote and in-place workers.

“Think of it as a chance to transform, be creative, solve problems that existed before and spring forward with new, continuously improved processes and spaces,” said Janet.