Is there a future for office space is a question that’s been around since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Now, at the start of a second, and most probably more severe wave, this question echoes within the society even louder.
The coronavirus turned the home office perk typically offered by tech companies and startups into a norm for almost everyone.
And while some businesses still consider returning to the office at some point, others don’t. Companies like Twitter, Square, and Microsoft have already told their employees they can work from home forever.
And why not?
For employers, it means fewer costs for office space, worldwide hiring opportunities, reduction in salaries if employees relocate to a less expensive area…
For employees, it sounds even more attractive. Noisy office desks turned into cozy kitchen tables; slick outfits into comfortable pyjamas, and nerve-racking traffic jams into refreshing morning workouts or extra sleep.
And that’s pretty cool, isn’t it?
It is. Until it stops being so cool.
At home, we’ve been enjoying benefits like flexibility, trust within the organization, more free time, no commuting, fewer expenses… There’s a lot said on the topic already.
But we also started to notice the downsides.
Zoom fatigue (yes, it’s officially a term now!), feeling detached from the organization and peers, drop in performance levels, lack of motivation, anxiety, depression, lack of clear boundaries between work and personal life… and these are just to name a few.
From an employer’s perspective, it’s not much better. Communication within the organization is harder. Alignment between departments is way more challenging. Not to mention how hard it is to make new teammates feel part of the team.
It’s not the case with everyone, of course. Some people have been working fully from home even before the coronavirus hit us. But it seems that for the majority of the global workforce such a workstyle is not sustainable in the long term.
In times of a global pandemic, work from home is a solution. But it’s a short term one because our homes have never been designed for work in the first place.
Architecture and design have always been about serving a purpose. And that’s why our homes are meant to create a feeling of safety, coziness, relaxation.
Workspaces, on the other hand, are meant to boost productivity, keep us alert, and provide a healthy mixture of social and private space.
Sure, Google gave its employees $1,000 to buy office furniture for their homes. But not all companies can afford this, and not all employees have free space at home to build a proper home office.
And even if they have, should they?
The working environment is not about space and furniture only. Workspace has a purely psychological, social element, too.
It wasn’t so long ago, in the early 2000s when freelancing was booming and working from home was the thing. It was super cool. No commute. Home-cooked lunch. No noisy coworkers or stupid cubicles. No costs for office space.
And while it was thrilling at first, most of these professionals – solopreneurs, startups founders, remote workers – started to face the downsides. Never leaving the house, loneliness, and having a 24-hour workday are just a few of the worst aspects of working from home.
People then realized the incredible value of a work environment that boosts productivity and enables you to build connections with other like-minded people. An environment that was not the home office, nor the local coffee shop.
Instead, it was a place where you can exchange ideas, feel part of a community, and get your dose of social interaction. Because even if you have the most amazing and ergonomic office furniture at home, this doesn’t automatically mean that you will feel great working from home.
And it’s when coworking spaces started to boom…
Simply because people needed a proper workspace environment that’s flexible and community-oriented.
And it’s funny how in a way, history’s repeating itself. Aren’t we facing the same struggles now? But this time it’s on the scale of almost the entire global workforce.
We have to keep working from home until the vaccine comes out. We have to be on back-to-back Zoom calls as long as there are thousands of people dying because of COVID-19 on a daily basis.
But just because we have to work from home now, doesn’t mean it’s a sustainable solution in the long-term.
We still need office space.
We just need a new, flexible approach to it.
Recent research conducted by IWG, says that six in ten workers want to get back to the office when employers allow.
However, the report also states that half of them would quit their jobs if they are required to work 5 days a week from the office.
According to research conducted by Addeco, 74% of people now want a mix of office-based and remote working. As an ideal allocation of time, they choose spending 51% of their working time at the office and 49% working remotely.
Gensler’s research says that 70% of the people want to work from the office a couple of days per week.
Along with the demand for a hybrid way of working, there’s a growing demand for working close to home. According to IWG, the demand for suburban coworking spaces has increased during the last months. While they observe a 30% decay in deals for their downtown locations in NY, they observe a 40% increase in the demand for their locations in the suburbs.
Corporates have already started shifting from traditional to flexible offices. Some companies have been also considering renting regional small offices and/or desks in coworking spaces that are located close to their employee’s homes.
Such decentralization of the workspace is rapidly growing in popularity – receiving the name ‘hub and spoke’. The hub and spoke workspace model is the ultimate hybrid combination of a centralized office location, regional workspaces, and a home office (CBRE explained this pretty well).
From an employee perspective, such a decentralized workspace model provides the flexibility to work from home but, at the same time, have access to a proper work environment that’s close-to-home. It also creates the opportunity to collaborate with peers who live nearby and have social interactions with other people.
From a business perspective, this can lead to fewer costs – instead of renting a huge office space downtown, office space costs can be distributed over several workspaces in less expensive areas. Providing employees with access to a proper workspace will also boost employee productivity and that’s critical for the business performance.
COVID-19 created plenty of unknowns for the entire workspace ecosystem – landlords, workspace operators, employers, and employees.
How landlords should adapt their offering? How flexible can workspace operators be towards their customers? Should companies have a single central office location? How to keep employees engaged when working remotely? How to provide flexibility while at the same time keep performance levels high?
And while there isn’t a clear answer, one thing is certain – the workspace real estate sector (both traditional and flex) is experiencing the biggest transformational crisis since the dawn of the industry. And we definitely need to reimagine the office concept.
But this process is also an opportunity to get rid of the old dysfunctional concepts of office space and embrace innovation and flexibility on a global scale. Way faster than it would have happened without a global pandemic.
Long term leases, centralized office locations, and rigid working conditions are a thing of the past.
Instead, flexibility, a hybrid way of working, and decentralization, are the right way forward.
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