Viva the office!
At our Autumn retail forum we pondered on whether it was our civic duty to get back to the office and buy the coffees so as to support the commuter economy, but things took a twist as we headed towards Christmas and even the most optimistic amongst us could see that we were ploughing into a tough spell.
As a real estate lawyer, I enjoy watching the debates over property of all types, including the one that centres on the alleged death of the office, and it’s obviously become an incredibly hot topic of late while the world chews over what the future will hold.
With the pretty successful transition of many businesses, from being office-based to home-based, happening almost overnight, and ongoing uncertainty over spikes and immediate future impact, many companies announced an agile work policy early on – some of which ran late into 2020, some into 2021 and some as far as Easter 2021. For some businesses, Covid-19 just accelerated the pace at which such policies, often considered, tickled at but never really embraced, needed to be addressed.
Where do you sit in this debate? It might seem like fence-sitting but I genuinely feel that there needs to be a balance.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that people could be productive from home with the right technology. They’d have been even more productive had they not had the slight matter of a pandemic hanging over their heads in the greatest period of uncertainty we’ve known for some time.
"To the extent a job doesn’t need to be done in a specific place, we need to assess what works best to help achieve goals."
When we think of physical space, whether it’s an office, shop, whatever, we need to think about its function and what people actually need and want from it and, indeed where they want it to be.
As a seasoned office-dweller, it feels to me like we need (and perhaps want) a combination of two things: office time and agile time.
🏢 Office Time
This will probably be - heck, I think it SHOULD be - time spent loudly discussing one concept and another, what you’ve been up to since you last met, what your focus is for the next week or month, and for generally just enjoying being with people and exchanging ideas so that you make time spent together, in a physical space, as beneficial and useful as possible.
The spaces - and our diaries - need to be planned to allow this collaboration to happen and our mind-set needs to shift to a place where these interactions, so important to culture, are truly valued.
I’ve worked in open plan for over a decade and I enjoy the ad hoc chats when people pass by and the spontaneous discussions that erupt on particular topics as a result of a phonecall or a someone posing a question across the desks. The space allows for this to happen quite naturally.
It also allows for supervision and learning almost by osmosis - and that’s something which can’t be replicated remotely, a topic which I’ll leave for our employment team!
🏡 Agile Time
We need some time by ourselves to really focus and concentrate on something without the passing distractions. Often – although admittedly not always - our homes provide a perfect place.
It can also be easier to structure your day at home to take advantage of the times you're at your best, whether you're an early bird or a night owl. People have found that the lack of commute can mean you're able to start earlier, maybe do a 30 min HIIT class then sit in sweaty kit until lunch, at which point you’ll peg the washing out because it’s a good blowy day for that!
Research suggests that many people can be at their most creative in quiet solitude but being forced to work solo - as we have been during the various stages of lockdown - has left many people feeling detached and for some, the juggling act of work and home brings its own stresses and strains.
So what about the future?
On the physical property front, I imagine we’ll see a swathe of companies trimming their office footprint, others moving location – perhaps out of the big cities and into geographical hubs – and a need for landlords to provide ever more appealing real estate offerings which cater for the changing needs and demands of occupiers – perhaps seeing office space as the provision of a service rather than just a tangible space.
We probably all crave a bit of the office because it reminds us of our ‘normal’ lives before Covid turned them upside down and it can often also be at the heart of company culture.
I certainly don’t think the office is dead but it’s had a bit of a shock to the system and it’ll be interesting to see what the workplace of the future looks like as us office workers come out of our forced hibernation.
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For more information on this update, please contact Marcus Carter.