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Since the UK went into lockdown a little over nine weeks ago, millions of people were forced to change their daily routine, set up their offices from home and ride through the tremendous uncertainty the Covid-19 pandemic bestowed on them.
Before this started, working from home was considered a luxury or a benefit to a small percentage of the working population and considering the long term influence of Covid-19 moving forward, companies are having to genuinely re-consider their workplace requirements.
Speaking to industry professionals across Building Consultancy, Property Companies, Landed Estates and Commercial Developers it is clear that our pre-existing love of ‘bums-on-seats’ in a large office spaces is done for.
So what does this all mean? Will we see the demise of office space in overpopulated cities? Will companies continue to tie into long term leases of large office spaces? Do current workplaces need a redesign as we move toward a restriction-free way of life?
Some strategies considered suggest a step-away from the capital in favour of regional hubs to support collaboration and face-to-face meetings when needed. If our government enforce social distancing measures on trains and buses, then those out of town commuters will likely face delayed commute times and long-queues.
The regional hub may offer a more achievable step forward as staff can commute by car avoiding public transport and avoid the hustle of London’s streets.
Although, I am not quite sure Croydon, Reading or Guildford will attract graduates and apprentices quite like London does.
Short-term loss for the long-term gain?
The office fit-out, serviced office and flexible co-working markets have come to a standstill. With most existing office sites empty and planned development on hold, many employees in this market have faced furlough with little update from their employer as to when they are likely to return and in some cases; faced redundancy.
There is a huge air of uncertainty in this space, but there is also a lot of optimism for this market. Many professionals believe that once we return to the ‘new normal’ and businesses realise what they require from their office space, we may see a huge demand for a more flexible set up. Businesses may look for the ability to increase or decrease desk numbers on a sixpence and they may wish to lose a physical location altogether in favour of home-working and merely require meeting space when necessary.
One thing is for sure. Existing office design does not comply with the rules of a socially distant future; can we expect demand for design and build fit-out specialists?
Ignoring what we have learnt
Before Covid, well-being and physical and mental health were key drivers in workplace design and many businesses have spent a lot of money bringing their office space into the 21st Century. However, will all this be forgotten as we look to return to office working?
There is a pressure to acquire several strategies as quickly as possible for a smooth return to office working, from one-way systems to plastic screens. Naturally, these are essential measures as we try to curb the pandemic, but will this not counteract all the hard work to support well being?
Where is the enjoyment or satisfaction in a long commute to sit at a plastic screen: socially distant from your colleagues?
Perhaps, instead of a quick redesign of the office layout and multiple hand sanitizers on the go; we should consider redefining our office.
Back to the Future
Office workers have shown that productivity and efficiency are not impeded by working from home and in fact may have changed the opinions of many business owners moving forward.
So, my question for the MDs, CEOs and Partners is; Do we need to have a full-time, energy-consuming, moral draining, inflexible overhead or can we adapt and adjust our definition of ‘the office’ through a flexible mindset, environment and workforce?
Don’t get me wrong, office working is not going to disappear after this pandemic but it is going to change. The question is how?
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