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2 JUL 2020

COVID-19: is there a place for office working in your property strategy?

Paul-Bagust-RICS

Paul Bagust

Head of Property Standards

London, United Kingdom

RICS

For many the physical office will now seem like a memory after months of virtual meetings from home.

RICS professionals across the world will be rethinking their organisation’s use of physical space. In the short-term this will be around adapting office space to adhere to social distancing measures and increasing hygiene precautions to keep employees safe. But as businesses look towards their longer-term strategy, in our digitally enabled world, to what extent is a physical office still needed?

Here are areas to consider as you plan your organisations future property strategy:

Is the traditional office dead?

Let’s be honest, COVID-19 hasn’t completely defeated the need for office space – a totally remote workforce wouldn’t fit the needs of all employees or all organisations.

What the health crisis has done is challenge the importance placed on office space and the assumption that it is the key component to guaranteeing productivity.

RICS recently worked with Leesman to find out what employees thought about their workplace. Early indications suggest nearly 80% believe being at home has helped them work productively, while around 63% thought their regular workplace enabled productivity.

A key aspect to successfully reviewing your property strategy will focus on diversifying your approach to office working, rather than simply eliminating it.

Research from estate agents Savills tells us that 89% of people still feel the office plays a vital role in business performance but that its design and use need to change to fit our times.

In Canada, real estate firm Colliers International published new data suggesting office space would likely contract by 8.5% over the next four years, with a third of respondents saying there would be no change to their office requirements – hardly a permanent shift towards complete remote working.

And survey results from management advisors Boston Consulting Group in Australia reveal a growing generational gap – with younger employees most excited by office working. 66% of 18 to 30-year olds felt ‘enthusiastic’ about returning to their office, when compared to 47% of 51 to 60-year olds. Whilst they are seen as digital-natives, many younger professionals seemingly prefer the traditional office environment when compared to interacting with colleagues virtually.

In the longer term the new post COVID-19 office will need to be a collaborative hub, connecting employees and clients across digital and physical space, facilitating a better organisational culture and inspiring innovative ways of working.

The new post COVID-19 office will need to be a collaborative hub, connecting employees and clients across digital and physical space

You can use it or move it

One of the biggest shocks felt from the COVID-19 pandemic has been economic, with many organisations being forced to freeze recruitment or even reduce employee numbers just to survive.

A reduced headcount will result in a need for less space – so think ahead if you may need to relocate or use spaces in different ways.

In some countries, a lingering effect of the communication of the health crisis will be people who are much more reluctant to commute on public transport to city centres.

A location strategy built on the ‘hub and spoke’ model of working could see a more regional approach being utilised to reduce unnecessary rental overheads. This regionalising of workspaces could be good news for out-of-town office spaces and could boost local economies if more employees work from towns that are closer to home.

Redefining relationships

The effects of COVID-19 have proven the relationship between landlords and tenants can change in order to overcome adversity – and this new way of working with each other should continue long after this pandemic is over.

Landlords and tenants are on the same side and need more collaboration; more flexibility and a better understanding of each other’s challenges and priorities to create the flexible real estate solutions that will enable businesses to succeed.

We need to reflect, examine what the changing data about office space is telling us, engage our staff and consider all the options before stepping into that boardroom with a brand-new property strategy.

One thing is clear, presenting this as a binary conversation on homeworking versus the office is missing the opportunity to create flexible work environments that are good for business, good for people and good for the environment.

Key takeaways:

  • The office isn’t dead and will continue to play a central role in any new property strategy;
  • Mixing remote working with the traditional office could boost productivity and cement a new collaborative culture; 
  • Location will continue to be an overriding consideration – especially should your organisation want to relocate office space closer to where employees live.
Paul-Bagust-RICS

Paul Bagust

Head of Property Standards

London, United Kingdom

RICS

Paul is an experienced member of the department and has delivered many high quality projects and products including the Small Business Lease and Occupier Satisfaction Survey. He has responsibility for the Facilities Management, Management Consultancy, Public Sector, Auctioneering groups and general Commercial Property matters.

Paul has specific responsibility for the development of professional guidance, pathways to membership of RICS and member engagement.

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