There is still value in the office!

Our offices of March 2020 and before: are they fit for the post lockdown world? Do we need to adapt? What solutions could be implemented? There are a lot of questions – some businesses will know the answer and others will not yet have given proper thought. With an adapting workforce, what offerings do you give them? 

There is no right or wrong answer for if people should return to the office as there are too many variables. The discussion to me is what space should be available for people in the office. A space to allow us to work. A space to allow us to collaborate. 

That said, the transition to remote office working has surprised many. The trends were already there but the speed at which it was adopted and now with the end of lockdown, the speed at which people are adopting for the longer term (rather than the imposed phase of the last year) is astonishing. Launching into a remote work environment happened overnight and most organisations were able to swallow it: there wasn’t a huge amount of disruption in operations.

There are a number of organisations, including PwC, who have now adopted significant flexible working arrangements. Many are adopting a “work from anywhere” mentality – which may mean your home, the office or some other space that works for you. With this radical shift what does it mean for the future of construction?

The last year has seen a complete transformation into the way the people work but the office space hasn’t transformed accordingly. As most people will move to working from home 40-60% of the time having workspaces set up like the old ways will merely result in a lot of empty desks – a complete waste of space! The stage is set to create places that people really want to come into. 

Spaces that promote collaboration – more a “we” than a “me” space. Office space which has configurations for large open plan kitchen/cafe areas – for brief chats or longer conversations and idea sharing. It is not to say that there won’t be space to work. There will be. People will still work from the office 40-60% of the time so they need desk space (and let’s not forget those who will be in the office all the time due to their circumstances). Post-covid working environment will create demand for new kinds of workspaces. The things we can’t really achieve at home. 

There will also be a focus on wellbeing and with that the air quality in the building. We are armed with so much more data than ever before and with that people will make choices. Buildings that don’t promote wellbeing will not be locations of choice for people. The science is explained really well in this Caleb Parker podcast: Season 4, Episode 7. There will also need to be increased specifications – think facilities for those running and cycling to the office environment. How are they catered for? 

So where do you end up? It feels like you have a choice, blending locations for you and your employees:

  • A repurposed head office/city office locations focusing on the wellbeing of employees and equipped for meetings, collaborating and the ability to work, coupled with;
  • Co-working space local to the employer. Maybe subscriptions or rented space that allows flexibility for the employee. These are still locations that promote a healthy wellbeing; and
  • The home. 

The office is great for collaboration, meeting colleagues, training and developing ourselves and our teams and well grabbing a post-work beer! All other locations, let’s say WFA, are good for concentration, wellbeing and a work-life balance. 

Over time you can see a rebalance away from major cities. Well-connected regional cities and towns will thrive because they offer connectivity – short commutes and a more affordable (and high) quality of life. They will become more versatile as co-working operators move to these locations to accommodate for the greater demand. You can already see this in areas like Barnsley that now have multiple hubs for workers. 

So I think the value of the office needs to be so much greater and deliver more. But there is value in the office still.

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