Is the office workplace dead? (Or is it just stunned?)

Those of us of an age will remember the (now infamous) Monty Python parrot sketch in which the business owner refuses to accept the fact that the parrot he’d sold is quite clearly dead.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the same sketch is being played out in businesses around the world. Just substitute the word “office” for “parrot”, and you’ll get the idea.

The Covid pandemic of 2020 and associated lockdowns caused perhaps the most significant shift in mindset towards office workplaces in modern times.

Overnight, the long-established operating models in every business were thrown out of the window, and companies had to create new ways of working. While many service-based businesses, who could only operate from one location, were compensated for closing their doors and furloughing staff, office-based companies had to relocate their staff to work from their homes.

In truth, remote working had been gaining traction for some time beforehand.  Indeed, there was a growing movement for people to split their time between working from home and office. However, many businesses had resisted that move, possibly due to a fear of the unknown and relinquishing supervisory control of their staff. The unsaid assumption was that everyone would slack off, and productivity would suffer.

But with no other option, those businesses dived head-first into implementing company-wide home working practices, and the effects were surprising.

Most companies reported that productivity didn’t suffer, with a significant number saying it had actually increased. In addition, staff adjusted to remote working with relative ease and found they enjoyed the flexibility it offered in blending their work and home life.

Is remote working here to stay?

Back in May, Anderton Gables (AG) ran a survey in conjunction with Insider Magazine, where we asked businesses about the future of the workplace.

The overwhelming majority (95%) of respondents said that their attitudes to working practices had changed permanently, with almost half saying they had spent the past year transforming their business models to become more agile.

And that’s one of the critical lessons learned by every company. Protection against future shocks, such as the Covid pandemic, is seen as essential to the long-term security of the business. Indeed, business continuity testing is now a core part of insurance assessments.

How will working practices change from here?

So, what happens next? While the 100% remote working model was necessary during the Covid lockdowns, most employers and employees agree it isn’t a desirable, long-term proposition. As such, a hybrid model combining office and remote working is the route that many are taking.

The overall view from our survey showed that the office is likely to become a central hub for periodic meetings or provide a base for staff to meet and collaborate.

As such, companies with large offices in cities are now creating smaller facilities on the outskirts of the areas and away from the traditional central business districts.

From a property development perspective, this has two significant implications.

  1. City-centre office space is falling in price as the demand falls. This is supported by our survey, with 49% of businesses saying they would require less space. For example, one company had recently renewed its lease for 55% less area than it had previously. Similarly, 73% of the companies we surveyed in the property sector confirmed they had seen a reduction in demand.

 

  1. Demand for out-of-town collaborative workspace has increased. As a result, developers have noted the requirements for open-plan areas with breakout rooms, quiet spaces, more natural light, and better-circulated air. Due to remote working being reliant on technology, super-fast connectivity was listed as a critical requirement.

Which factors will office occupiers need to consider now?

As we’ve noted, life in the post-lockdown world has been changed permanently. As such, we recommend that office occupiers think carefully about:

Property Needs

Creating smaller office hubs away from the town and city centres instead of a single, large occupancy space in the expensive heart of those areas.

Flexibility

Implementing a hybrid-style working practice, combining office and home-based working, allows staff to work independently or collaboratively as required.

Technology

For the hybrid working model to be practical, boardrooms and meeting rooms need designing to support video conferencing and new technology solutions in their construction. Super-fast connectivity is a must, with leased lines to the building becoming a more appropriate solution.

Building Services

Hygiene routines and air quality are primary concerns for people working in shared workspaces. For example, buildings need clean air filtration systems, wall-mounted sanitising dispensers, and appropriate signage to promote and maintain safety standards. In addition, cleaning routines need establishing focusing on high touch-point areas such as door handles, light switches, toilets and food preparation areas.

Summary

While the lockdown provided the catalyst for businesses to embrace remote working practices and necessitated the investment in appropriate technologies, the future holds different challenges for business leaders.

As workforces become scattered around a larger area, the workplace hubs have to be safe, accessible, and enjoyable places to visit. Company culture is usually created with people permanently working close to each other. So, companies who can strike the right balance between working methods and spaces are well-positioned to create significant opportunities for success.

So, no, the office is definitely not dead. But it has evolved, and the businesses that recognise that fact will be the ones that thrive.

AG’s Workplace Consultancy assists building occupiers with the refurbishment of their existing place of work, relocation to new premises (from acquisition to occupation), as well as helping Landlords maximise their building’s potential.