When Boris Johnson told the UK to work from home for a further six months many began to panic about the future of the office market. But is this the death knell for the office? Or will it prove to be the catalyst for a better work/life balance and improved office culture?
Despite the huge pressures currently facing city centre offices, I do not believe that this is their end. For the past 20 years, people have been predicting the end of central London as a top office destination, but it hasn’t happened yet and I don’t think it will crumble in the face of Covid-19. Knight Frank agrees, with new research showing London to be the most popular city for investment into office space so far in 2020.
I myself have witnessed more and more office transactions in recent weeks and only this month news broke that Morgan Stanley is said to be looking for a new London headquarters, seeking at least 600,000 square feet of space.
But while the London office looks like it will retain is popularity, I do think the days of the five-day-a-week commute are behind us. Covid-19 has forced people and organisations to get to grips with remote working as well as regional ‘satellite’ offices which is a trend I think will stick. While many businesses didn’t previously think they could operate with remote workers, most have been proved wrong. Not only does remote and home working have the potential to cut costs, but increase productivity. Prior to the lockdown, many held the view that home working would be detrimental to productivity and have been surprised to find that it has had little impact, or even a positive impact on employee performance.
And with many now comfortable with working at or close to home, long and expensive commutes into central London offices, five days a week, will be a hard sell for any company. But most people, it seems, don’t actually want to keep working from home permanently, and would like to keep working in office environments, but with more flexibility and the option to keep working from home perhaps one or two days a week.
And that’s because offices still have many benefits. Not just because people like to have company, but because offices encourage collaborative working and afford people the opportunity to learn from their colleagues and gain workplace experience.
So, the value of the post-pandemic office must lie in its social and collaborative benefits. When we return, I expect that fewer people will need individual desks and offices should adapt to give more space over to collaborative and joint working.
I also expect that demand for regional offices will be in higher demand going forward. There is already some evidence of this with a new EG report showing that demand for offices in places like Croydon and Shropshire surged by over 70% in June compared to January.
With all this in mind, by spring I expect (and hope) to see great leaps in the attitude towards a more permanent role for flexible working arrangements, as well as offices working to stay relevant with improved layouts and facilities. Offices need to be places people want to work, to meet colleagues and improve their connections while working from home or in satellite locations should be accepted as a positive and productive way to work individually.
Do you agree that this is the future for office working?