Thursday, 16 July 2020

Working from Home: The Death of Office?


Is office space still a necessity amid Covid-19? People are working from home, and numbers are being laid off. The role of an office space has become a matter of great interest.

Generally, in a downturn, office demand drops off as employment levels fall and corporates move into cash preservation mode. The global pandemic has pushed us into a global recession and in the short term this will have a direct impact on office demand.

Savills Office FiT has conducted a survey on office space demand, pre- and post-lockdown. Based on their survey, results vary by company size. The work-from-home impact is greater on larger companies. For companies with size relatively small (1-9 employees), 27% of respondents worked 3+ days from home pre-lockdown, rising to 42% post-lockdown. For companies with 1,000+ employees, the pre-lockdown level was 7%, rising to 39% post-lockdown, as shown below.


The percentage that would look to work at home 4+ days a week post-lockdown shows that around 8.5% of respondents would have a strong bias towards working at home. At the 4+ days threshold, this is likely to have an impact on the provision of desk space back at their office.


Increased working from home makes us start to think on the function and purpose of an office space. Do we really need an office? Why?

Savills included three factors as employee’s concerns: whether to work at home, office or both. These three factors are: personal growth, work-life balance and sense of belonging/ pride of employee in a company. As shown in the chart below, personal growth is best met in an office environment based on the survey, with a 3:1 ratio in favour of the office. Same goes to the sense of pride in a company - company office space is still a strong preference. On the other hand, employees prefer home to reach a work-life balance purpose. This may link to the commute and time spent away from the home, which has implications for future office location and design. 

On productivity, the office is not perceived as the best place to achieve the highest level of performance. About 87% of the respondents feel as though their productivity level whilst working at home is either neutral or higher.

The result shows that enabling a higher degree of employee autonomy is likely to be beneficial to both employer and employee. Employees themselves may know better on what really suits them. This is because preferences vary by age, experience and goals. For instance, younger workers are likely to prefer working in the office to help them learn and understand the processes of office life, be seen, network and collaborate.

Offices provide a physical space to bring people to work together and boost ideas. They showcase a company’s brand and culture and play a key feature in attracting and retaining the best talent. In a knowledge economy, an organization’s success will still depend on face-to-face interaction, collaboration and serendipity. For younger employees, the office acts as a platform for them to learn and experience.

The impact of the pandemic may lower down the demand on office space in the short term. But in the longer term, the office will remain a fundamental part of our corporate culture and is essential for our work and productivity. Thus, working from home does not lead to the end of the office.

Reference:

1.     The office is vital, but needs to change, Savills Office FiT
2.     The future of global office demand, JLL Research, 23 June 2020
3.     How Will Covid-19 Change Demand For Office Space? 20 May 2020, WSP

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