As we now sit in the aftermath of a lockdown period, the one question I am asked almost daily is; what is your view on the future of offices?
As a surveyor acting for both landlords and tenants, I am naturally biased and look optimistically to the return of a buoyant occupational market; however, even with my ‘impartial’ hat on, I must concede that home working has been a good short-term solution for businesses. Be that as it may, it is not a feasible long-term substitute for office working.
Working from home is not a new phenomenon – this has been happening long before the COVID-19 pandemic. The way in which people were working pre-COVID was changing and the past six months has only accelerated this change. Across all industries, businesses have been investing more in staff wellness and working culture including an increase in flexible working. Working from home offers some wonderful benefits notably; more family time and no commute. My answer to the above question, and personal preference is that the future of working will entail the best of both, not one nor the other. I hope that flexibility and staff wellbeing continues to be promoted, however, removing the office in its entirety is not the best option for businesses and here are my reasons why:
They provide a place for learning
I started at Allsop as a graduate nine years ago fresh out of University. Despite a three-year BSc education in which I learnt the theory and process of the Real Estate industry, nothing quite prepares you for working in the real world. I learnt more in the first few months of being in an office than any lecturer could have taught me; being taken to meetings, overhearing phone conversations; interacting with colleagues and shadowing my superiors/mentors. To think you could gain this experience over a Zoom call is simply unrealistic.
They allow a collaborative space with energy and vibrancy
Working with other people in a collaborative environment keeps the mind and body energised. As mentioned by Forbes magazine; “Being together virtually just doesn’t have the same magic – some people are engaged, some are distracted, some are multi-tasking and some are having technical difficulties.” There is no substantial replacement for face-to-face interaction. Working within a group culture increases communication and creates collaborative discussion resulting in increased efficiency.
Attracting new talent
As businesses continue to fight for quality talent and hires, the emphasis for an inviting, cohesive and dynamic working environment has never been so important. Presenting new employees with the opportunity to work solely from their homes is hardly an enticing offer as most people generally do crave the in-person interaction with colleagues, especially new ones. Company culture is so important to businesses and this would never be achieved with staff only having virtual relationships with one another. Company culture centred around the office should be seen by business owners as an investment, not a liability.
A healthy state of mind
For many workers, especially the younger, working from home often entails a cramped bedroom in a flat share. I for one simply cannot get excited about the prospect of spending the working week sitting alone and staring at the wall in my spare-bedroom. Whilst of course there are people who have offices at their homes, this is a minority. Your home then becomes your place of work which makes it hard to compartmentalise and know how to switch off between the two. Being able to physically distance ourselves from work makes it easier to dissociate ourselves mentally and achieve that much desired healthy work/life balance.
Business have been able to operate throughout the pandemic with varying efficiency; however, I wonder how different this would have been if relationships with clients had not already been established. My view is that the only reason many businesses have still operated ‘as usual’ is because of the strong pre-existing client/staff relationships that have been fostered over time through numerous face-to-face encounters. Without these prior personal interactions, it is hard to think how you would have created these relationships. From speaking to a variety of clients over the past couple of months, it has become clearly apparent that the quality of discussions via Zoom fall short of those had in person with a coffee or beer!
For me, trust, is going to be the key word going forward. Trust that you can produce the same quality and quantity of output regardless of whether you are working from home or the office. People will be increasingly appraised more on results than ‘presenteeism’. It is clear that there will be more working from home, but this is not the future. The future is the best of both, office working with the flexibility to work from home when this can be done efficiently.