A recent report from property firm JLL suggests around 30% of all office space will be consumed flexibly by 2030, as the need for a fixed office space declines.
This is one of many recent reports, developed on the back of the “world’s biggest working from home experiment”, which have prompted rumours about the death of the office.
Lockdown measures, which imposed worldwide office closures in March, forced companies to make difficult decisions about lease renewals and their office footprint while balancing this with the need to protect their employees and their business’s future.
Is the future flexible?
Flexible working isn’t new, but the scale of it is. While some companies and teams have adapted well to home working and benefitted from the flexibility it brings, others have reported Zoom overload, declines in productivity and a lack of team cohesion.
Another of the surveys, revealed that workers want increased flexibility to work from home, but still desire an office environment at least part time. So, is the future of the office really under threat, or do we need to look more inventively about how a more hybrid workforce (in-office and remote working) might look in practice?
What does it mean for your office?
- Avoiding clustered workspaces – While having a hybrid workforce will certainly help with this, you might also start hearing the term ‘de-densification’ being used more widely to describe putting more space between employees (because offices can’t have people sitting on top of each other!). Therefore, the surprising fact is that you may actually need more office space in the future, not less.
- Less is more – Health and safety will be paramount to any office reopening. Expect to see less desks, less people and less team meetings; and more phased reopenings, staggered work patterns and regular deep cleans.
- Quick fixes – Reconfiguration and retrofitting will be the first port of call in the short-term. Installing temporary screens, increasing the space between desks, and a copious supply of hand sanitiser, will be some the very basic measures needed.
- Office investment – More large-scale structural changes may have to be made to ensure a safe return; from fitting air filtration systems and making corridors wider, to major re-fits to accommodate the current social distancing rules.
- Embrace the tech – Technology will play a crucial part in the success of a new hybrid workforce. COVID-19 has driven business leaders to be more innovative and accelerate digital transformation programmes. From the use of cloud technology and digital whiteboards, to touchless office entry and online training courses, technology is central to helping businesses stay open, become more resilient and protect employees.
While we must rely on an abundance of caution for now and to say goodbye to big meetings, chatting in the staff room and team socials, the physical office will remain important. We are inherently social beings and enjoy a sense of community and belonging.
I, for one, value my time in the office and am missing the Clifford Towers work culture and collaboration that are intrinsic to working in a physical space; no home office can match it. I look forward to our inevitable return to the office, in its post-COVID form, with optimistic pragmatism.