It’s not about us versus them. It’s about choice.

Why are we so black and white about things? Why can’t there be acceptance that one way or the other isn’t necessarily the answer. Remote first vs office first. How about making a choice first? All this talk of exodus from the office and lambasting those who say how much they enjoyed working from the office/home is just silly. As Caleb Parker says, “It’s plus not versus” yet the dialogue still rages on. It’s like picking sides in the playground.

There is however a need to look at office strategy going forward from two perspectives – the employer and the employee. If you cut through the roles where fully remote or fully office are quite clear you are left with an environment where there will be a full mixture of working patterns. I would see myself as a remote worker. I do not live in a location where my employer has an office anymore and none of my clients are located in close proximity. That said, I have options – my employer has many offices across the UK – closest is about 40 miles – and well my clients are in the business of real estate so between them they have a small portfolio (c£8bn) of assets. I have choice and that is what I want (see above). I think a lot of people just want the choice not being forced one way or the other!

But because I am a remote worker doesn’t mean I don’t not want to come to the office. I love the office. There isn’t one reason – it varies each time. For me personally I could say my number one reason is always people. I’m baffled by some arguments for remote working that you are somehow better socially. I would say I see my friends the same amount of time as I did before but remotely, I have seen work friends less – feels awkward scheduling a coffee chat in the calendar! Every day I am in the office I will have at least two or three impromptu catch ups with people. Linked to people is how I feel my teams collaborate when we’re together – which resonates with this article about breakthrough ideas The biggest problem with remote work. There is a need to cut out unnecessary meetings but when we come together, we can really create something special and solve challenges that could take so much longer virtually.

But I have to reflect that yes, some days there are a fair few vacant desks but actually it’s not always noticeable – oddly a large number of people have simply switched client sites to the office. I appreciate that I work for a more progressive employer and therefore our offices have been adapted pre-Covid for changing working patterns. As an employer you don’t want to be hanging onto vacant office space. There is talk and actions of mandates for people in the office. We encourage it. I won’t lie but for the vast majority of people it’s not a problem and people find it more productive with their teams in the office.

Let’s just say you have some vacant office space now – well you certainly need to continue to offer a variety of working environments. Remember some people come to the office because they do not have the environment at home to effectively work OR simply do not want to work from home to protect that space. More communal space and leisure space to me are simple and effective. Grabbing a drink with someone or playing a game of pool works for me. Thinking bigger can see training and other events brought in-house.

For most organisations they previously adopted a rented model. Few own their own buildings. I guess if you do then the below still applies but it maybe means you get a chunk of cash from an asset disposal. You have a lease and it will at some point end. What do you do? This will vary across organisations. How much space do you need/want? Are their alternative options – downsizing, using more space as a service? The rise of flexible working options gives more choice. There have been examples of even large corporations moving to a completely flexible model. So you would expect that leases will end but most will continue medium term as options are explored. The brave will take more decisive steps.

But what will the knock-on impact be on construction? Putting aside inflation and cost pressures the demand for new office space will continue – whether brand new or refurbishment as it reflects that current stock is simply not of sufficient quality for future use. An impact may be the original intended users. Yes, there are still corporate headquarters but alot of office space represents sub-offices and this is where the space is more likely to be taken up by co-working or “flexible” space of some description. Construction still grows, it’s just the end product that has changed. There will be a huge deficit in high quality spaces optimised for remote workers when they do come together physically too. Cities do not have enough co-working space or quality meeting/event space but this will change as the market forces the hand and moves to more partnership with space-as-a-service operators.

I’m no expert and certainly sit here not fully knowing where this journey will take us. I think if I was to have wishes it would be that corporations retain a central head office (where their size warrants) but really supplement this with co-working/remote working options for their employees. I think that more options are coming – more localised spaces offering micro coworking options. I think two key areas this could be developed is public space already available, like libraries which could offer local space for people and bring income into the local community and community assets. Residential developments could also seek to provide space where they are of a certain size.

The future of working will continue to develop, and this journey will continue for us all.

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