The work-from-home boom will reinvigorate office developmentDigital Manager
The inaugural Big Picture piece of this year, written by our founder and MD @DanInnes, was all about the office – and sparked a debate among our readers about the demand for office space in the future. This week, Unilever, one of the UK’s largest companies, became the latest to announce that it will “never” go back to a five-day working week in the office – citing new working patterns as Covid has proven the agility of the business and its team. It is clear that demand for office space will be lower than before as workers may only spend a few days of the week amongst colleagues. But a few days in the office is still a few days in the office.
It seems that ten months into the pandemic (but who’s counting?), the discourse around the future of the office has shifted – from prophesies about its demise at the beginning of the work-from-home boom, to the recognition that the pandemic will, on the contrary, lead to a revival of the office market, and offices that are better designed and more dynamic than ever before.
It all makes sense, of course, as we have collectively gone from experiencing the benefits of working from home (no commute, more time on our hands, fewer unnecessary meetings and more comfortable choice of trousers) to realising the downfalls of it (lack of interaction with people not belonging to your immediate family, blurred lines between work and life, and – some say – a drop in creativity, motivation and productivity). A recent article in The New York Times pointed out that, rather than wanting to get back into the office, people now just want to get out of their homes – “[t]hey want their children back in school, and also out of the house. They want to see people’s faces again, and have conversations with people who are closer than six feet from them. But that doesn’t mean that they actually want to be back in the office — at least not the way the office was before.” It is clear that workers have had just about enough of working from their kitchen tables and are craving something else – and that something else might just be having the best of both worlds. Therefore, office life will be characterised by a higher degree of selectivity on the part of employees – driving demand for not just better quality offices, but also better located offices as workers will have more freedom to choose from where they work.
Whilst this shift is likely to represent a drop in demand as significantly less space will be required, it also presents huge opportunities for office developers, should they choose to work towards being at the forefront of the market. Over the next few years, we will see a polarisation of the market where ‘good’ office space will yield more money than ever before and ‘bad’ – or even average – space will be redundant. Once we actually have a choice of where to work again, office developers will need to work hard to make sure the choice falls on their product – and a room with desks and chairs with meeting rooms attached to it will no longer cut it. Rather, the success factors of the office of the future will be the best location, the best facilities, the best technology, the best integration with remote collaboration tools, the best health and wellbeing components – and the best combination of all of the above.
So whether the future of the office is flexible, intermittent, hub-and-spoke or something completely different, one thing is for sure: the office is most certainly not dead, but, in the words of @AntonySlumbers, the old office market is.