Office? What Office?

Get back to reality, maybe?

As we have been informed by our Prime Minister that we have past our peak on the Covid19 outbreak, together with over a month of lockdown, there are whispers about the possibility of opening up the country and get back to some form of normality.

As discussed previously, as well as the issue towards how we will travel to our place of work, our offices will need to adapt to the new form of social distancing. We have already accustomed to this new phenomenon while queuing for our daily grocery or visiting our banks in the high street, but going back to work in an enclosed environment post-Covid19 will be a brand-new experience.

A brave new world

Several issues will need to be resolved. Firstly, what are the new guidance within an enclosed office environment? Maintaining a constant 2m distance is not always possible even in a supermarket, how will social distancing works in an office environment?

Secondly, the internal layout of all existing offices will have to be altered before workers can return. While prototypes are being developed on what it will look like and how it works, the design suggests a very spacious office environment, together with behavioural change, the consequence is it can accommodate less staff than before.

As a result, companies will need to rent more floor space should they want all their staff under one roof. With a possible post-Covid19 recession looming, together with market uncertainty around the globe, I am not convinced even high earning companies, such as in banking or technology, will make such investment in the current climate.

The big boys are having second thoughts

There are also signs that change may come in the long term, with big tenants such as Barclays Plc and Morgan Stanley are already thinking they may take up less office space to reduce their overhead.

Studies have also been carried out on how staffs feel about working from home (WFH), early indications are getting used to WFH is not as hard as anticipated and the practice also has a positive impact on their wellbeing. This will be a tell-tale sign to the bosses that the future of working must change, for the benefit of the employee and the bottom line of the companies.

A new kind of towns and cities?

What does this mean for our neighbourhoods, towns and cities? This could be the beginning of a big cultural shift, which started after the last recession in 2009 where freelancers are working with their laptops, using high street cafes or the members’ room of a museum as their office/meeting space. This will, as a result, breaks down the definition of an office or a place of work within our cities, it also begs the question if we need to continue to build large office buildings for it to have low occupancy due to low utilisation and the new rules of social distancing.

After all, if people can have a choice of working from home, or use a café with a nice view in the middle of a city as their meeting room, will they want to go back to the “old normal”? The question is, if we have this cultural shift, what do we need to do to our homes to accommodate this and how our high streets / cultural venues / town centres need to do to foster and support this new type of activities?

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