Working from home (WFH) is not a new phenomenon. For the past 20 years and more we have seen WFH grow at varying speeds across different business sectors.
When I first started my professional career the internet was in its infancy. This new technology was going to transform how we all worked.
Many things about office life have changed over the past 30 years and the way we use office space now is dramatically different from then. While WFH has become commonplace in many industries, we have also witnessed huge demand for office space.
March 2020 saw WFH become the new normal for most of us. As a property developer with a strong focus on the office sector, I’d like to think WFH won’t result in a dramatic fall in office demand but it would not be prudent of me not to consider the role of offices in the brave new world.
From a mental health viewpoint many people prefer an office environment to differentiate work life and home life and need the social interaction the office environment offers. The commute, while stressful for some, provides a buffer to wind down for others.
Training of staff while WFH is a huge obstacle. Graduate lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers etc. all benefit hugely from working day-to-day in an office environment, where they can learn directly on the job.
There are differing views on the impact of WFH on productivity levels. Perhaps some of us are more disciplined than others and can ignore the temptation of a trip to the fridge or watching day time television.
Productivity is also dependent upon the quality of the home working environment. For those with a bolthole or home office, productivity may not suffer. But in cases when people are trying to work from the kitchen table or for households where couples or flatmates are all trying to work from home at the same time, I struggle to believe productivity won’t suffer.
Confidentiality becomes an issue when there are multiple people trying to work from the same household. Where three or four friends share a flat but work for competing firms, overheard calls or video meetings is already a major concern in the banking and financial world and must be of huge concern in other industries.
I believe the office environment will evolve relatively quickly as a result of Covid-19, but overall demand will not change significantly.
The way we use offices will change and the extent of change will vary from industry to industry. In the financial and professional sectors I think we will see greater demand for offices to be meeting hubs.
Many businesses already adopting a hot-desking approach won’t see a large reduction in their need for space, but will perhaps create easily sanitised meeting rooms and socially distanced working areas.
Where WFH isn’t completely viable for some businesses there may actually be a need for more office space to accommodate social distancing.
Private individual and corporate demand for small offices to accommodate those without the right WFH environment is already something we have seen increase dramatically and small cellular space and business centres may see an upturn.
I have little doubt offices will look different over the coming years but I don’t fear an exodus from our city centres.