Can and will 'the office' recover from COVID?
2020 has seen a huge shift in the working-office paradigm – one that continues as millions of people throughout the UK sit at their makeshift desks at home, hastily set up back in March and quietly maintained since.
It’s something that I’m sure many have discussed with fellow work colleagues, while businesses, not just in the UK but around the world, have been forced to sit up and take action on this shifting axis – one that still continues to wobble with each misjudged government announcement or U-turn.
One person who is extremely vocal and sufficiently experienced to tackle the dilemma of the workplace is Chris Cheap, Managing Director of the UK Regions for global real estate advisor Avison Young.
A quick visit to the Avison Young website and you’re greeted straight away with a piece entitled ‘Safely returning to workplaces’ a short strategy guide on returning to the office and where you’ll find the words “The office isn’t dead. It’s just being rethought.”
Chris has been appointed to the new Origin offices in the city centre, and he’s keen to explain, and hopefully allay any fears about the office environment;
“I think the first thing to establish is that COVID has not necessarily brought anything new to the office arena but it has accelerated a number of trends and dynamics that were already being seen.”
He explains that these trends are “agility, flexibility, amenity and wellbeing,” buzzwords that resonate with developers, investors, landlords and advisors – shifting the focus of office spaces from the traditional primary concern – cost.
The average business (and worker) now “expects more” from their workspace, and in the “battle for talent and the desire to express a business’s personality through its workplace, we’ve seen an emphasis on design-led functionality in offices and shared spaces.”
As a result, these trends are set to become the “new market reality” insofar that landlords must deliver more engaging working environments as the market ‘resets’ following the COVID impact. In fact, those that “prioritise healthy work environments that promote physical and mental wellness” are the ones that will be most successful as people return to the office.
In this respect Origin has seen recent success in securing two significant lettings, by, as Chris explains, providing “an office product that speaks really effectively to its target audience because a greater level of attention to detail has been applied by the landlord in not only providing the office space, but overlaying it with amenity and shared space that still works safely in a COVID world. As well as providing an enjoyable work experience.”
Speaking to Sam Crothers, Managing Director of one of the new tenants, Our Studio, they were initially attracted to the offices by the “communal meeting spaces [they] could use, and the sizeable roof terrace” as well as the natural ventilation that is provided by the large windows running down both sides of the office – “particularly since COVID.”
Other amenities seem to have encouraged the move, with the staff actively using the on-site gym, roof terrace and meeting rooms.
Asked why they’d made the move; Sam seems to answer the burning question of whether the office is truly ‘dead’…
“When we were all working remotely during the early days of lockdown we were wondering if we even needed an office space moving forward.
“However, as months passed, we came to realise the benefits of being in the office – to have face to face meetings with the team, to collaborate and knowledge share, develop and grow team members as well as communicate more efficiently.
“The importance of having a clearer division between home and work life also became apparent. We are not back in full-time and intend to carry on working flexibly as there are many benefits to this but having a ‘COVID friendly’ office to come to and meet when needed is important for us as a creative company.”
Even though this is only one example of one set of offices in the city centre, it’s clear that companies and workers are still looking to maintain that clear work/life balance with a centralised office – and all of the benefits that affords.
As this paradigm has shifted in recent months, it’s also become apparent that office suppliers and landlords need to offer more in the way of benefits and facilities – as cost becomes less important and ideas like “flexibility”, “agility” and “wellbeing” head to the forefront of people’s minds.