America Disrupted: The future of the workplace

Yahoo Finance’s Akiko Fujita spoke with Cushman & Wakefield NY Region President Toby Dodd, WeWork Chief Production & Experience Officer Hamid Hashemi, and Thrive Global Founder & CEO Arianna Huffington about what the workplace will look like after COVID-19.

Video Transcript


ALEXIS: There are now over 1.85 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US. That's according to Johns Hopkins. And that is changing the way we think about the conventional office space. Akiko Fujita joins us now for more. Akiko, as part of your series, you spoke with some big names in the commercial real estate space about how they're changing everyday business. What did you find?

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, Alexis, you know, it's interesting. We've talked so much about the tech companies like Facebook and Twitter making this more permanent shift to work from home. But the reality is most companies are looking at a more fragmented workspace. And we're talking about some visits to the office with staggered hours, some work from home, and yes, still a lot more Zoom calls to come.


TOBY DODD: So the first thing when they step out of the lift is, they're going to notice that the doors are open. So they're not going to have to touch a door to come in.

AKIKO FUJITA: Americans returning to work face a dramatically new office experience.

You've got three chairs here. How many did you have before?

TOBY DODD: We would have had six before.

AKIKO FUJITA: There's less furniture here and fewer desks.

TOBY DODD: What we do down these line of workstations is we take out every other workstation. And then people will be able to maintain that safe distance.

AKIKO FUJITA: And there's plenty of reminders to keep that distance, as we learned firsthand. Cushman and Wakefield calls this the six-feet office.

TOBY DODD: Two of the areas we're really focused on is maintaining that social distance while we're in the office. Also just reducing the number of touch-points.

AKIKO FUJITA: Employees here use keys instead of their fingers. They stand in marked corners. They're required to walk clockwise around the office to avoid congestion.

TOBY DODD: The overarching approach has been, how do we create these safe environments with a limited amount of time and a limited amount of capital to make them accessible for everybody?

AKIKO FUJITA Other offices are turning to tech, installing thermal imaging cameras to check temperatures and air filtration systems. WeWork expects employees to stay closer to home now. It's launching software to help clients find locations nearby.

HAMID HASHEMI: This technology that that we've put together, and we're rolling it out gives enterprise companies the ability to map out their people to our various locations. Again, if you have 4,000 people, they don't all have to be in one or two locations.

AKIKO FUJITA: What does that mean from a business standpoint from WeWork? On the one hand you're saying there's an opportunity of more businesses coming in. But just as equally, you've got to have a lot of businesses that may not have the same footprint they did pre-COVID.

HAMID HASHEMI: Net, net we have greater demand today than the members that we've lost. Enterprise is about 46% of our business today. We expect that number to grow to about 70% to 75% of our revenue over the next 12 months.

AKIKO FUJITA: But companies like Facebook and Twitter see remote work as more permanent. That's altering the definition of the office.

Do you think we're seeing a permanent shift in the way we actually look at the workplace?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I absolutely think we're never going back to exactly where we were. And in many ways, that's a good thing. I think there's going to be much more of a hybrid future of working from offices and working remote.

AKIKO FUJITA: Huffington expects that to lead to a shakeup of C-suite roles. Mental health, now a priority with employees working in isolation.

Who takes on that role of ensuring that part of the equation?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: The heads of HR departments are now the most important executive in the company other than the CEO. The health and wellness of employees has now been moved to the front burner.

AKIKO FUJITA: The changes giving new meaning to business as usual, with our workplace changed forever.

Now Cushman and Wakefield did a recent survey looking at all of their properties globally. But also speaking to their tenants. And they found that 50% of those in the workplace plan to use, what they call, this total workplace ecosystem.

So the fragmentation of a little work from home, a little work from the office, more online. What I thought was interesting about all this, in my conversation with WeWork they said, look, we're going to have to start thinking about headquarters no longer being a thing. So those big office spaces we're seeing here in midtown Manhattan, more and more people are not going to want to take the train into work. And so now you're seeing these companies also looking at the suburbs to see if they can lease out some office space there.

ALEXIS: Yeah, it sort of really puts WeWork, though, up on it's head, doesn't it? I mean, their whole strategy just sort of gets upended with not a lot of people needing to be in one place at one time.

But I'm curious about cost. Who's going to be burdened with that? Is it the landlord? Is it the company themselves? Is it a shared cost to outfit the space the right way?

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, it's a shared cost. But that's why you heard Cushman and Wakefield there say, we're trying to come up with solutions where people feel comfortable, where people are safe, but that don't have a very high capital cost.

Because when you think about it, yes, there is still that potential for a second wave. But how long is this really going to last until we get that vaccine? And so what you're seeing a lot of companies say is that they don't want to make these huge investments because ultimately they think that there's a possibility this may all go back to where we used to be once the vaccine's in place.

ALEXIS: Well, we are holding out hope for that. Akiko, thanks so much for that reporting, fascinating stuff.