As we edge closer to the six-month mark since the world’s largest work-from-home experiment began, employees and employers alike remain divided on remote working.
In BC (Before Corona) times, just 5 percent of all full working adults worked from home. Coronavirus catapulted the nation into home working with a staggering 49 percent of people now working remotely according to the latest figures from the ONS.
After spending months using their living space as makeshift offices and getting to grip with the various video and communication systems like Zoom, Slack and Hangouts, many employees have decided they like working from home. A Halifax survey of 3,000 adults found almost one in three employees plan to keep working from home after the coronavirus restrictions end.
Thankfully for office investors, more said they were looking forward to returning to work in the coming months. Rent collection for offices has increased since the early days of the pandemic, with UK and European investor CLS Holdings collecting 93% of its rent for the third quarter due as of 7 July.
As lockdown restrictions are gradually eased, businesses now face the very real question of what work looks like in a post-Covid world and the answer will have a profound impact on commercial real estate.
The truth is the choice isn’t as black and white as between bringing employees back into the office environment full-time or having everyone working from home indefinitely. The death of the office had been prophesied before and the Cassandras now predicting the end of the physical office for good will likely be proven wrong again.
That is not to say there won’t be some drop in demand for office space, especially among smaller companies where rent, business rates and other costs are likely their largest regular outgoings by far.
Tech giants like Twitter, which has said their staff can work from home indefinitely, and Facebook, who expect half of employees to work remotely over the next five to 10 years, have a more virtual nature to their business, which means a dispersed workforce is far less of a challenge than say manufacturing.
However many other sectors, especially those in the creative industries, are realising the power of having office hubs for IRL (in real life) collaboration, socialisation and mentorship.
Fundamentally, remote working won’t suit every business and is not an equally beneficial trend for all employees.
For example, young workers in their 20s are more likely to be living in small or shared accommodation which often lack suitable home workspace. This makes remote working more challenging than those who are more established with a larger home.
However slightly older workers are more likely to have families and will have felt the strain of adding home-schooling to the daily agenda during the lockdown. Those in managerial levels have spent increasing amounts of their time on calls, which decreased their energy levels.
There is evidence that remote working can have negative implications on productivity and staff morale too. Global architecture and design firm Perkins and Will, which has designed corporate office spaces for the likes of Barclays, Premier League and The Economist, found many struggled with home working according to their At Home survey.
Without the physical separation from work and home that the office provides, many found it harder to switch off, with 78% working longer or adjusted hours, and 50% missed the community and collaboration that a centralised workspace engenders.
Is the Future Hybrid?
Rather than opting to go fully remote or back to 100% capacity in office spaces, many businesses have to find a happy medium between scaling up working from home policies and scaling back office space. The Perkins and Will survey found workers favour a flexible future; expectations for continued home working policies grew by 38% during lockdown.
Coronavirus will undoubtedly have a huge impact on office design, with the days of high-density occupation in offices likely over. Yet office design was already moving in the direction before Covid-19 struck.
Progressive occupiers, developers and architects already recognised the office had to be more than a place to work and instead somewhere genuinely meaningful to employees.
As a result, we are likely to see offices transform into hubs for socialising with colleagues, training and collaborating on projects and activities which require spontaneity or fast-thinking.
If there is one positive to come out of coronavirus, let’s hope it is an improvement in the quality of people’s professional lives through better quality workspaces.