We were recently invited to share our thoughts and answer some questions for FMJ specifically on the topic of workplace fear.
How far do you think COVID-19 has accelerated trends in the commercial property sector around health and wellbeing, activity-based working, flexibility and the drive for better space utilisation?
The global pandemic has without doubt accelerated the conversation about space utilisation but it remains to be seen whether these changes will come to fruition. With people working from home for the last 12 months there is definite appetite for change in the workplace. People have got used to home comforts and routines and will not want to return to an office and be in one fixed position all day.
The ‘new’ workplace will need to entice people into it and give them a reason to want to be there. It’s likely a hybrid model will be adopted and people will be in the office about three times a week. When people are in the office it will be largely about collaborating with each other and notepad-based meetings. At home it will be more about doing the work at a computer. Flexibility of workspaces will be critical. Offices that are only used for eight hours a day or restaurants that are used for 2 hours won’t suffice. Spaces will need to be multi-purpose and adaptable. Wellbeing was sometimes a bit of a buzz word before the pandemic. Organisations perhaps were taking small steps that ticked a wellbeing box, like installing bike shelters for example, but Covid-19 has really shone a light on physical and mental wellbeing and prioritised it on the corporate agenda. Often wellbeing can become over complicated but it’s about having the right policies in place to truly support people. People must feel supported in the roles they are doing, be given options with regards to working from home when the workplace reopens, be given a platform to encourage them to be mindful of their own wellbeing and be able to engage in team activities.
What do you envisage will be the size and location of the future workplace and the right mix of the portfolio (e.g. more smaller offices situated in regional hubs?)
I think we’ll see large corporate city offices downgraded in scale and a ‘hub and spoke’ model introduced with a roll out of more regional offices. This will cut down commuting costs and time meaning colleagues are exposed to less risk of illness which will, in turn, increase employee wellbeing. People will have more flexibility to manage their own diaries and place greater focus on looking after themselves more. Portico is developing community manager roles so whichever office visitors or colleagues come to, they have the same experience and warm welcome. The future will be about having less space that’s more flexible.
Should organisations even maintain corporate offices when they can encourage and support distributed work to save money on real estate?
Sense of community, team spirit and collaboration are all created by being together. It’s not as easy to gauge emotions or reactions from afar. The corporate office space will still be a fundamental part of business but the way it is used will change. The workforce will likely be physically together less than pre-March 2020, but this time will be valued more.
If the hybrid workspace is the preferred model, how should CRE redefine and redesign workspaces that will support it?
CRE will have to work harder to be appealing to staff and come armed with a good catering offer. Food is very important in nurturing staff and vending self-serve offers will also need to be available. Portico has introduced tuck shops at some sites and they have been gratefully received.
Flexibility will underpin the hybrid workspace model and hard fixtures will be few and far between. Technology that is user friendly and right for the environment that adds value and makes life easier is also key. The network also has to be strong – something that many will have battled with from home. One person pods were always busy before the pandemic and demand will only be greater now.
A home-from-home feel will be so important. Working remotely and being virtually in each other’s homes has gone some way in sparking a more personal link among peers and line managers. Where one-to-ones were previously conducted in an office or a busy staff restaurant, they are now done from people’s homes and in some cases on the sofa which makes it more informal and easier to open up.
What could be the impact on leasing larger spaces, i.e. should owner/occupiers look to optimising office space and repurposing existing office space to meet changing needs?
If workplaces are going to embrace agile working and they expect only 70% of people to be in the office at any one time then it’s critical the space is restacked to suit the new demand. If companies occupy a smaller space, they can reinvest more in the services delivered making colleagues time in the office most productive. Large spaces can be broken down into zones for different uses and more collaborative spaces can be introduced with retail pop ups, for example, to get the best use out of the space.
What role can digital technologies within office space play in helping to manage spaces more efficiently and enhance occupier comfort and safety?
Digital technologies have the ability to revolutionise the workspace if they are used in the right way for the environment concerned. Employees being able to manage everything efficiently from an app, for example desk bookings and catering orders, will allow them to become even more productive with their time. Community engagement can be included on the app too so everything is available at the tap of a smartphone. We’ve seen the use of technology give people comfort about returning to the office. Things like having sight of floor plans, details about ingress and egress, new one-way systems and Covid-secure measures that show people what the space is like gives people peace of mind. Technology also allows monitoring of usage. Colleagues can see heat maps about how bust spaces are such as the café and they can choose to visit at a quieter time.