Typically driven by technology, legislation and social norms, employers have been guided through changes in business by their employees for several years. The perfect example is the Bring Your Own Device phenomena, where employees chose to bring their own smarter, faster devices versus the barcoded and battered laptop offered by the corporate IT team. A similar type of phenomenon is currently taking place. The overnight switch to remote working as a direct impact of the global pandemic has completely changed how the future workplace will look.
Employees no longer need to negotiate flexible working – it is now almost a given. Productivity and work-life balance has moved to the top of the agenda, with individuals choosing the working environments and spaces that suit them. We are no longer chained to an office 9-5. Many people have adapted to working from home to an extent that they can’t imagine returning to the old ways of being present in an office Monday to Friday, 9-5.
Businesses need to adapt their strategies and ways of working to successfully implement, and work within, a hybrid business model ‘ one which enables employees to work productively in office and at home, whilst at the same time building and retaining a strong corporate ethos. And interestingly, productivity levels have reportedly remained largely the same during lockdown, further supporting the permanent transition to this hybrid model. Landlords of commercial space need to consider how they adapt to facilitate this changing business culture.
In many ways, we have mastered the tools that enable remote working ‘ especially when the whole organisation has been remote. However, there are more challenges to be addressed when we have half of an organisation in office, and half at home. Enabling collaboration in this mixed mode is not easy. Anyone who has shared an office with multiple co-workers on Zoom calls will attest to how disruptive this can be. Room based collaborative suites designed to enable team interaction are not yet perfect, but they are evolving rapidly. For once, human and societal behaviours are driving adaptation of technology in the workplace rather than the reverse.
So, what is the action for landlords and occupiers? Fit-out design will change. More hotdesking, more soundproofing, and more meeting rooms equipped with technology for remote interaction. Densely occupied environments where everyone is on HD Zoom will test Wi-Fi capacity and may require more planning and an upgrade to the latest Wi-Fi 6 standards. One thing is for sure: occupiers and arguably even more so, their employees, will only come and work from space that exactly fits their productivity needs ‘ otherwise they might just stay at home.
Connected office spaces will become common place
Homes have become more connected and feature rich, and are now competing with the office in a way that we had never expected. If office systems, such as meeting room booking tools and door access, don’t talk to each other, or if tech cannot enable fast and reliable communications to those working remotely, people may choose to stay at home to work, because the home may be a more convenient, flexible, and possibly even more productive working space for some. The office experience needs to be friction free with everything working better than the domestic equivalent. Lighting, desks, printing, Wi-Fi, meeting spaces, the coffee ‘ all better, more connected, and higher quality than at home.
How can space providers look to meet hybrid demands?
With remote working set to stay, essensys fully expects to see the further decline in the take-up of long-term leases ‘ in fact, you can argue they’re already a thing of the past. Instead, businesses will seek accommodation strategies that fit the needs of a workforce that demands flexibility and can balance both people working remotely as well as sustained corporate occupation. And they want these spaces to be readily available and connected instantly.
However, such spaces will need to be adaptable and customisable. For argument’s sake, let’s say a business has 100 employees. The business owner may very well agree with the landlord that on a daily basis only 60 people need to be accommodated for with facilities and desks. But, once a month, all staff will be together, and then 100 people will need to be accommodated for. Landlords have to adapt to this ‘ meaning that a second space has to be provided for in a different location. Ultimately, business strategies are evolving, and so too must building owners.
Multiple locations will require networks to be established so that staff can easily access different buildings with one code, or one security pass, for example. Minimising friction and being user-friendly is of huge importance to improve customer experience. Ease of travel and choosing what space to work from is being called for by companies occupying space now ‘ even to the point where people want offices right next to bus or train stations. To enable this required ease of travel and choice, landlords will need to invest in technology that provides seamless connectivity between offices in different locations.
Flexibility and experience and its rising importance.
With the pandemic still taking hold, the long-term impacts are yet to be fully understood or felt, but a significant power shift has already occurred. The memories of a traditional office block with fixed desks and a small kitchen area are set to evolve into more flexible, smarter and technologically advanced spaces.
Landlords are now facing the challenge of answering market demands and remaining relevant. This means providing spaces that are as flexible as possible, and help business leaders manage hybrid workforces effectively. It also means providing services and amenities that occupiers have come to expect such as room booking technology, physical and digital security measures, community engagement, flexible billing arrangements and office environments rich in value added services.
Employees are now used to their home comforts, and the convenience of not having to commute every day of the week – not to mention the advanced technology used in most homes nowadays, from smart TVs to video-recording doorbells, that all add to the attraction to the home. To attract workers back to offices, offering a connected, flexible, and seamless experience is essential. And not only reimaging the flexibility employees have now become accustomed to, landlords must also now provide a positive user experience too that rivals the safety and protectiveness of home.