With the phenomenal success of the Covid vaccination programme and the easing of lockdown restrictions, attention for businesses is now very much focused on returning to the office. Some have said that the office is dead and businesses will never return, but I disagree with this theory. Most will revive in some shape or form, whether permanently or utilising a hybrid model combining working from a core office location with the remainder from home or a hub.
There is growing evidence that employees want to get back to their workplace, whether for a day or the entire week. Some have felt isolated working from home, missing the social interaction from being around colleagues, and the lack of spontaneity. The office is a place to connect, collate and share knowledge, to problem-solve and drive productivity, keeping teams motivated and allowing business culture to thrive.
Those who have not handed back their office keys are likely to need their space to look, feel and perform differently from before. In the short term, yes fewer people will be in the office adhering to various social distancing measures to keep people safe, but looking ahead, what is the future of the workplace and what new ways of working are we likely to see?
Undoubtedly the working week will become more flexible, meaning businesses might commit to smaller core spaces on long term leases to reduce costs. There is likely to be an increased appetite for flexible office leases, co-working and managed spaces, in line with JLL predictions that by 2030, 30% of all corporate real estate will be flexible solutions, allowing businesses to flex up and down. This freedom is hugely attractive and gives businesses choice in procuring different workspace styles instead of creating and delivering it themselves. The result could see core office spaces with satellites for employees and teams to meet elsewhere. Some employees might have co-working memberships to perform tasks outside of the core workspace, minimising commuting, ticking the sustainability box and reducing fixed real estate costs.
Turning to the layout and performance of workspaces, priorities are likely to lie with meeting and collaborative spaces with fewer permanent workstations. Workspace technology such as desk booking applications will enhance space planning for optimal efficiency helping define the number of fixed workstations, meeting rooms and collaboration spaces. Technology also contributes to keeping employees safe with heat mapping motion sensors, controls densities and more efficient sanitisation.
Returning to the office is not all about socialisation however. Some home working setups have not been conducive to productivity driving the need for quiet space dedicated to focused tasks and work. Delivering adaptable workspaces might be initially difficult to achieve, but balanced correctly will be the success of the core space for any business.
Businesses with smaller floor areas will need to be creative in order to provide efficient and adaptable spaces. Floor plate configuration will become high on the selection criteria when looking to move offices and as essential as the cycle and shower facilities. Portable and multipurpose furniture will help unlock the new look workplace with increased activity zones. Products such as Vitra's Dancing Walls are a feasible solution, creating different sizes and styles of space without structural interference and at a lower cost. Simultaneously, the number of quiet booths will rise so employees can undertake focused tasks and connect with clients and colleagues digitally.
Most employees will be excited about the prospect of returning to their office, as I am, regardless of when this is. Humans are social creatures craving interactions, so working from home will become less dominant in the future but will still feature in the working week. With adequate employer and employee planning, employees will have greater freedom to work whenever and wherever they choose. Technology will undoubtedly play a big part and will continue to help maximise productivity and support different specified working areas, depending on the task.
I believe the office remains very much an integral part of any business. There is no one size fits all solution, but businesses who get their people back to flexible, fun, healthy and safe workspace environments will reap a competitive advantage.