The evolution of business’ approach to office-based working - comment

Social distancing has turned our lives upside down, and at short notice businesses adapted to remote working, moving office life into the home.
The need for more agile working is expected to continue, says Capaldi. Picture: Leon Neal.The need for more agile working is expected to continue, says Capaldi. Picture: Leon Neal.
The need for more agile working is expected to continue, says Capaldi. Picture: Leon Neal.

Some are beginning to speculate this could spell the end of offices, but many are still hopeful of a return to normality. Home working has benefits for some types of firms; but, for most, the office still serves a valuable purpose as the heart of an organisation, especially for company culture.

In Edinburgh city centre alone, there are still requirements totalling up to 500,000 square feet of office space – while some of these deals have been put on hold, some are still happening and only a few have been shelved altogether since lockdown began.

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That said, social distancing measures will likely have a significant impact on the way offices function in the months ahead. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, both landlords and occupiers need to consider how the office environment will evolve, particularly over the long term, with flexibility being key.

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Most offices, especially open-plan spaces, will likely see a significant shift in the number of people who can work there at one time. Space requirements are usually determined using a ratio that allocates around 100 sq ft per person, but to ensure workers have the recommended 2m of separation, this is rising to around 160 sq ft.

Before any employees return to the office, occupiers and landlords will need to get together and work out the practicalities, ensuring communal areas, meeting rooms and reception spaces have adequate signage and hygiene measures in place. A return to the office in some form may be on the horizon, but the need for more agile working is expected to continue with many employees continuing to work from home – at least for a proportion of the week.

Most organisations will likely find it difficult to have the entire workforce in the office at one time, which means we could see new working patterns emerge.It is likely that there may be a shift towards locations on the outskirts of towns and cities. The current situation has highlighted that remote working could be the way forward, with video calls replacing face-to-face meetings, therefore reducing the need for a large physical presence in city centres.

There may also be a move towards allowing people to work closer to home – whether that’s literally at home, in a co-working space, or one of many smaller, satellite offices. The situation is changing all the time, but what’s clear is there are big changes ahead for landlords and occupiers alike.

Remote working and social distancing are likely to underpin every aspect of businesses’ return to office work for the foreseeable future and, while some staff will eventually return to a physical workplace, it’s unlikely to look and feel the same as it did at the beginning of the year.

Simon Capaldi is an office agency partner at Knight Frank

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