Many employees displaced by the coronavirus have adjusted to working from home but research suggests their expectations on what a workplace should look like will have shifted when they do head back to an office. A study by research firm Gartner found that an increase in remote-working employees and under-utilization of existing office spaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic will trigger a need for smart, wellness-equipped office spaces in the future.

“Due to COVID-19, many offices remain unoccupied or underutilized as employees choose to work remotely,” says Gavin Tay, research vice president at Gartner. “However, once lockdowns ease, employees planning to return to the office will have heightened concerns about personal health and safety. Offices that have been turned into smart, wellness-equipped spaces make employees feel safer.”

Gartner predicts that by 2022, 60 percent of hybrid workers will prioritize a wellness-equipped smart office over a remote office. It expects that strategies that focus on facilities modernization, more agile work environments and the value of employee experience will shape demands in smart workspace technologies.

The company suggests that to build a wellness-monitored office, application leaders can start by initiating the use of integrated workplace management systems (IWMS) solutions that see to the health and safety of employees. IWMS and resource scheduling applications (RSAs) that use artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT), including motion sensors and beacons, can remind employees to adhere to social distancing rules based on their whereabouts. Businesses can also keep ahead with contact tracing and promote the use of virtual personal assistants (VPAs) as wellness coaches.

Organizations should not only augment existing hygiene policies with thermal imaging systems but also invest in systems that monitor air quality in real time and keep employees informed. Additionally, features that provide the ability to continuously disinfect, improving air quality by reducing airborne and surface contaminants like viruses, bacteria, germs, volatile organic compounds, smoke and other allergens will be important. Ultimately, Gartner notes, cleaner air allows for improved recycling of air, which will contribute to energy-saving benefits as well as make the workplace healthier.

Converting empty “ghost offices” into 24/7, healthy, co-working spaces also presents opportunities to organizations. While doing so does require added costs, it can be an important first step in a mitigation plan—allowing organizations to recoup some of their losses during a partial, phased or full reopening. Employees who do not want to work remotely or who lack a good work environment at home will be the first people to benefit from converted offices. Opening such facilities to remote workers from outside of the organization can present additional revenue opportunities, helping to recoup losses.

“Organizations can offer empty office spaces to co-working vendors, pitching them as smart and sustainable, healthy office spaces that can be managed with technologies and tools,” says Rashmi Choudhary, principal research analyst at Gartner. “After creating healthy co-working spaces out of the loss-bearing corporate real estate, remote workers with difficult work environments can use these office spaces. Booking co-working spaces whenever required through resource scheduling applications will become a convenience.”