With most of the world experiencing various versions of lock-down, some economic and social commentators are suggesting that offices are now outmoded and unneeded. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the “death of the office” have been greatly exaggerated. Humans are at their heart social animals and after the dust has settled many businesses will conclude that having people together in an office environment is essential to productivity, creativity and good mental health.
However, the effect of the measures taken to fight COVID-19 are likely to affect our physical office space requirements for the future. It is expected that occupiers will look to make more efficient and considered use of accommodation, with revised requirements in terms of desk space per head, and with collaborative and communal features taking a more prominent role within the office, improved high-speed internet nationally alongside a greater focus and investment in the integration of remote working technologies.
Here are 5 ways the current crisis may change or effect the way we look at our offices:
There is still a stigma attached to working from home (WFH). There will now be a wider acceptance from employers that WFH does actually work to an extent, and should not be viewed with such suspicion. This should allow most of us to work from home on a more regular and effective basis and encourage those who have not already done so to embrace hot-desking fully. Employers now have the opportunity to improve employee wellness, including a better work life balance, flexibility and autonomy, which many studies indicate can result in increased productivity. On the negative side, for those who live in small flats, house shares or with limited access to outdoor space WFH can be isolating and cause a blurring of the lines between work and home. Except for Sunday best, we may have also seen suits and ties for the last time!
In uncertain times flexibility and limited commitment/exposure to long leases will be important to most businesses. Leases including; regular tenant breaks, inclusive rents, rentalised "Cat B" works, pre-agreed sums for dilapidations and simpler lease forms may become the norm. Serviced office operators will have a big say on this and we will comment in greater detail next week.
You will probably never stop the overzealous middle manager from arranging too many "meetings about meetings". However, even the least tech-savvy amongst us are now using and enjoying audio/video conferencing sites such as Zoom and Webex. Face-to-face meetings may now be only required at "key" points and businesses will require fewer formal meeting rooms and we will spend less time travelling between them.
4. WORK/LIFE BALANCE
According to a recent Swedish survey people who commute more than 45 minutes a day each way are 40% more likely to face marital issues. With the average commute to London circa.48 mins each way, the next few weeks people are going to get used to not travelling to work and will enjoy the extra time they get to working (or with family and friends) and the money they save on commuting, sustenance and the endless lattes. This could signal an exodus from the big cities and the revitalisation of more regional centres and smaller towns with good public transport and amenity and office buildings with good car parking ratios. It could even hail a new dawn for the out of fashion and out of town business park.
5. COMPANY ETHOS
It’s difficult to instil a sense of corporate ethos and branding with colleagues and staff when we are all cocooned in our home offices. Offices, when designed and managed well, create the brand and culture a business wants to encourage in their teams and employees. A reduction in desk space can offer flexibility for a wider variety of valued real estate such as wellbeing centres, gyms, mentoring space etc… that can represent the business brand and brings a sense of excitement when coming the office. This is something we should all be keen to perpetuate.
Will the average business require less office space in the future? Possibly, but not much less!