The future of the office in a post-COVID world

Category: Commercial Property

What effects will COVID-19 have on the future of the office? How will working practices change when the lockdowns finish for good?

It’s often said that the only thing which is constant is change. A year ago, the country experienced one of the most significant changes to daily life – we were instructed to stay at home.

Change in working practices

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a huge shift in working practices, particularly for those who are office-based, who have largely had to work from home throughout the past year. However, it may be that the pandemic has accelerated an existing trend, rather than creating a new one.

Over recent years there has been an increased desire for flexibility. The order to ‘work from home if you can’ was the official endorsement of what many workers had been hoping for in the last 10 years. In the age of the laptop and – at least for most – a decent internet connection, the traditional model which advocated the need to be in the office from 9am until 5pm was already being questioned. Then the pandemic forced us into a nationwide working from home experiment.

Working from home has become like second nature to most of us. So does that signal the end of the office? Despite the almost apocalyptic claims at the outset of the pandemic, this is unlikely to be the end, but rather another phase, in the evolution of the office.

Although some occupiers are considering alternatives, many are still willing to spend large amounts of money on office space. According to a survey last year by Savills, up to 89% of respondents believe that physical office space remains a necessity for companies to operate successfully. The office is clearly a lot more than just a place to do work. After all, the home office allows you to do that.

What does an office provide?

So, what is it that an office provides? It provides structure and the sense of separation between work and home that many have lost during lockdown. But arguably the most important thing it provides is interaction. Whether this is in the formal sense of working with colleagues or informal socialising, it is being in the same place which engenders a business’s culture and internal brand. No matter how many video calls we have, the creativity and spontaneity of these interactions simply cannot be replicated.

It seems then that the focus of the office may shift away from being a place to just clock in and clock out. It is now clear that for most people, working practices will not return to the way they were, and there will be a blended approach to home and office working. The office needs to provide more than they would get from working at home. The physical layout of offices will no doubt change to ensure the safety of employees and respect the new emphasis on personal space, but the changes may need to go further than that. The office will need to cater for an increased movement of employees. We’re likely to see hot-desking, breakout spaces, and future office layouts built around collaboration.

Something extra too?

We may also see a shift from office space being a product to becoming more of a service – not just providing a place to work but also providing something extra for the organisation and its employees. There may be a renewed emphasis on spaces that enhance the health and wellbeing of employees and which encourage face to face interaction and teamwork.

It might be that the pandemic signals the end of the office as we know it. However, this seems to be something that has been accelerated, rather than caused, by COVID-19. The office will need to evolve to meet the needs of a workforce which is more mobile than ever before. What is clear is that the office can add value to our working lives, and it must continue to do so if it is going to remain viable in the post-COVID-19 world.

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The future of the office – talk to us!

Are you planning changes to your office and the way it works in the future? It’s always good to get a specialist’s opinion of the impact and implications of making these changes. Our Commercial Property team are more than happy to talk you through your options. why not get in touch with them by calling us on 01752 827013 or emailing Head of the team, Nick Winslet, at [email protected].

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