The future of office space is currently in question. Although you might be surprised to know that it was in question prior to Covid-19, lockdown, and social distancing measures. What lockdown has done has been to shine a spotlight on an issue that may have been put on the backburner by many businesses.
Here we will examine if, in light of social distancing measures, office space is still a pre-requisite for many firms.
Why do companies have offices?
For many years, office spaces have served as symbols of what a business is all about. When we look at the architecture in London there are many great buildings that reflect this. Whether it is the grandeur of Mansion House and SIS Headquarters, the swish formality of the CitiGroup Towers, the creatively casual corporate of the Google offices or the boutique business feel of the converted Warehouses, each one presents visitors with a first impression that allows them to get a ‘feel’ for the type of company they are engaging with.
More than this though, offices allow for good team communication and cohesion. It is also easier for employers to secure IT infrastructure within an office.
Why are people questioning the value of office space?
Prior to Covid, we were beginning to see the emergence of a demand for flexible working. In short, this meant a mix of working from an office and working from home on a flexible basis. In large part, this has been attributable to the rise in technological advancement and the ever-increasing prices of property, commuting in the Capitol, and concerns about how to lower our carbon footprints.
Now, with Covid-19 causing many companies to look at how to implement social distancing in offices that are not designed to accommodate 6 feet between employees, employers are, understandably wondering if their office spaces best represent their values and are sustainable in terms of cost.
As the situation stands at the time of writing, social distancing may be eased from 2 metres to 1 metre. This might help employers a little. But, we’ve seen a shrinking workforce across the board. Much smaller workforces may be able to return and maintain social distance. However, the major obstacle for employers will be lower turn over and increased costs due to having offices larger than their requirement. They will also have to increase hygiene measures.
The Property Market
In the long run, if we do see more employers opting to go office free, this will be a cause of concern for those in London’s commercial property market. The FT reported a drop in demand way back in March 2019. They attributed this to companies crowding staff into smaller office spaces. Perhaps this trend was a result of the fast-growing jobs market or Brexit concerns or, both.
That said, speaking to the Evening Standard at the beginning of June 2020, property experts seemed optimistic that businesses would look beyond the next year or two. They predict that the use of office spaces might evolve but offices will ultimately still be required.
Flexible Working; Flexible Space?
Other companies who have already shed their long leases in favour of remote working will most likely gravitate toward workspace providers. These spaces often have a ‘campus feel’ with numerous companies working under the same roof. According to the late, great Steve Jobs, this was something to be encouraged because chance interactions and conversations spark worker creativity.
There is a lot to be said for Steve Jobs’ approach. Following Mental Health Awareness Week, there have been numerous reports stating that the wellbeing of remote workers has suffered. Largely, this has been attributed to feelings of isolation and ‘always on’ culture. Homework can make it difficult for employees to switch off because they don’t physically leave their workplace. Furthermore, there are no natural breaks to chat with a colleague when they feel stressed.
Having an office space enables employees to close the door on work, socialise and also enjoy company benefits such as gym facilities or Friday Fruit or Donut days. The points that make an office environment unbeatable for many are points that serviced and flexible workspace providers take very seriously. They have generally considered the location and the surrounding amenities as well as the facilities they provide. Quite often, they offer packages inclusive of utilities and fun staff benefits.
Perhaps because of this attention to detail, the demand for flexible office space has increased over the years. However, many of us will have questions about how they work. Our client BE Offices have written a great blog which can help.