- While some people want to continue working from home, those living or working in isolation find it a daunting prospect.
- Having a more dispersed portfolio is likely to be the way of the future, and for flexible workspace this provides a significant opportunity.
- John Williams, Head of Marketing at The Instant Group, believes the main office will still provide a base for connection and brand-centric focus, but visits will more likely be planned in advance and have specific outcomes.
Guest post by John Williams, Head of Marketing at The Instant Group.
The latest market research would have us believe that just a third of British office workers have returned to their desk following the Covid-19 pandemic. With the remainder continuing to work from home, what was initially expected to be a short-term response has now become the new reality for many businesses. But there is nuance to what is a much more complicated debate than the mainstream media would have us believe.
In July, Natwest announced that an estimated 50,000 of its employees will work from home until at least 2021, while Facebook and Google are allowing staff to work from home until July next year, and Virgin Money may not bring workers back to the office at all.
To some, these announcements will be a welcome relief as anxieties about returning to the office remain strong. There are also those who are relishing a better work-life balance and are in no rush to get back – in fact, 21% do not want to go back to the office because they prefer not having to waste time commuting and enjoy having more flexibility.
For other office workers however, the thought of working from home, often in isolation, for another 12 months, will be particularly daunting.
Working from home was once seen as a privilege. It’s now the norm, and a visit to the office a carefully orchestrated luxury. To maintain physical distancing many companies have had to implement a booking policy where staff need to indicate when they will be in the office. Others have implemented a rota system to monitor the number of people in the building at any one time. In my view, and those of the clients we have surveyed, these are short-term measures to offer reassurance and not a long-term solution.
“Working from home was once seen as a privilege. It’s now the norm, and a visit to the office a carefully orchestrated luxury.”
Employees have adapted well over the last five months and thanks to technology, business has been able to carry on and teams have been able to come together and collaborate as they would have done face to face before. But the feedback we are hearing is that firms are “managing” rather than moving forward. Business leaders are looking at more long-term solutions that will help bring teams together and allow them to be more agile.
A New Hybrid Way of Working
As lockdown restrictions start to ease, business owners, landlords and operators recognise that a new hybrid way of working is coming to the fore – agility now takes on numerous meanings as a business quality: agility around workplace occupancy, design, location and tenure. These elements of workspace evolution were always on the future agenda but Covid-19 has significantly accelerated their development.
With worries about commuting and having to rejuggle the work-life balance, many workers are keen to return to the workplace but want to stay closer to home so businesses are starting to explore the benefits of having a ‘work-near-home’ model as well as a central head office.
While it was born as a survival tactic through Covid-19, for commercial real estate, working near home will be part of the next normal.
A recent survey by KPMG showed that 69% of businesses were planning to cut their office space in light of this; a sign that having a more dispersed portfolio is likely to be the way of the future.
“While it was born as a survival tactic through Covid-19, working near home will be part of the next normal.”
We are already seeing this nascent hub and spoke model with large corporate clients looking at regional office locations and assessing their options. The market will have to work hard to adapt to this new demand given its current location bias.
Since the start of the pandemic, having spoken with over 50 heads of corporate real estate across the globe as part of our Agile CRE Think Tank (ACT), we estimate that we will see up to 75% of firms move towards a more agile real estate strategy. This is not the death of the office, but the introduction of a more network focused office set-up using a combination of workspaces including the central office, working-from-home and the work-near-home office.
A “Network Focused” Office Setup
Satellite offices in and around key suburban areas closer to employees’ homes will help alleviate both safety and commuting time concerns while still providing teams an opportunity to gather, engage, collaborate and create. As lockdown eases, these offices will allow for the first phase of reopening and reengagement with teammates. The main office will still provide a base for connection and more brand-centric focus, but visits will more likely be planned in advance and have specific outcomes.
For flexible workspace this provides a significant opportunity and will ensure that flex supply exceeds the 12.5% of total office supply that we predicted by 2023.
Businesses must face the reality that the future work model is likely to include more flexible working patterns and more working from home. When thinking about the CRE strategy, it will become important to not just offer more flexible working locations but also to understand their operational performance and the value they represent. Clients have struggled with this issue in the past.
It might have taken a global pandemic for companies to be able to realise this change in strategy, but it seems inevitable now that we are going to see more and more businesses of all shapes and sizes looking for a more flexible workplace approach with agility at its core.
John Williams is Head of Marketing for The Instant Group. Established in 1999, Instant is a workspace innovation company that rethinks workspace on behalf of its clients injecting flexibility, reducing cost and driving enterprise performance. Instant is the market leader in flexible workspace and places more than 11,000 companies a year in flexible workspace such as coworking, serviced or managed offices.