The future of the workplace

Chapel | Image provided by Matt McPheely

By: Matt McPheely, a community-focused real estate developer and entrepreneur.

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What is going to happen to the modern workplace once we can safely get back to work?

The most common opinion I’ve heard is that there’s no going back to the way things were, now that people have had a taste of working from home. I do believe there is some truth to this statement, especially when it comes to long commutes or expensive leases. But we tend to underestimate one of our superpowers as humans: our ability to forget.

Imagine a possible scenario with me…

It’s 18 months in the future, the beginning of a new year. We have had a vaccine for COVID-19 for a handful of months, there have been no major spikes in new cases in the US for nearly a year, and the economy has been rebounding. Things are finally looking up.

The desk in a bedroom is starting to feel a bit cramped, days full of Zoom calls got old about 18 months ago, and even though school is back in session the kids still get home in the middle of the workday.

For most of us, more flexibility will be a welcome change coming out of this mess. But human interaction and the need for community will overcome our fading fear of infection. We won’t forget what happened, the people lost, or the economic toll – but the need for collaboration without a screen between us, random encounters, and group entertainment will prevail in the ways and places we spend our time.

Chapel warehouse | Image provided by Matt McPheely

Here’s what I envision: More people will indeed work from home. Many companies with big expensive leases will downsize or go fully remote (we are already seeing this happen across the country). Alongside these more flexible remote working arrangements, more and more people will move to smaller cities with a great quality of life. Greenville is without a doubt on the top of that list for many people. My family and I worked hard to craft a flexible work situation, then built a house and moved back as soon as we did. That will happen more now. We’ll see continued growth here, especially from talented people working remotely for great companies. And they will gravitate towards vibrant communities of people doing interesting things. They will cowork, even if just a day or two per week, to get out of the house and be around interesting people.

With Chapel, I’ve had the opportunity to think deeply about how to design a space for a new future. How will we adapt if people don’t want to work too closely to others, or if the restaurants are more takeout focused rather than dine-in? Will people eventually feel comfortable packing in tight for a concert or conference in our event space? You now know where I stand on these questions, but it will still be crucial to design for the many new considerations we’ll face in public spaces. In the worst-case scenario, we need to design for the ability to adapt if another pandemic hits in the future.

While it may be difficult to think anything good will come from our current situation, the future will indeed be bright for our city. New technology will emerge, new jobs will be created, we will build things together, and people will get back to work. I look forward to getting out of the house and doing that with you.