Office life may never be the same again

Tees Business Digital Media Pack

One thing Covid-19 has changed dramatically is the way we work. Some businesses have realised homeworking suits them. For others, having staff in the office is essential. Matthew Clarke, partner at Sanderson Weatherall, weighs up the debate for both…

Clearly Covid-19 has presented challenges to industries of all shapes and sizes and the property market has been no exception.

The office market in particular has been the subject of much speculation and debate, with contrasting opinions polarising many.

Practically overnight, businesses were forced to operate with significant numbers working from home, something that provided a pleasant change for many employees.

Recent reports suggest that people have been as productive as they were before the crisis and collaboration has increased in some circumstances thanks to calls, virtual meetings and working on documents in real time.

This change to people’s general working pattern will probably be most pronounced to those who previously had a long commute with a significant time and costsaving benefit. The idea of investing in local coffee shops and businesses closer to home and the ability to play an active role in your own child’s education has been a refreshing revelation for some.

As employers open their eyes to the possibilities of efficient and productive home working, they may begin to question how much space they require and therein the possible occupational cost-saving implications.

Of course, there are counter arguments to this – not all businesses can simply work from home. Many benefit from staff being in the office, with the lack of face-to-face contact taking its toll on people’s abilities to learn and train, as well as weakening individuals’ emotional connection with their company, leading to a diminishing company culture.

Most employees require the social interaction that office environments provide. Many successful working relationships are built on both unintended interactions (the infamous “water cooler moments”) as well as pre-arranged calls and meetings.

We suspect the answer lies somewhere in between, with a greater emphasis on agile working and embracing better quality and more inclusive working environments.

These changes give offices a new purpose as a destination for innovation and learning, empowering employees to plan their own working week.

Agile working is not a new topic. Previously adopted by some, it has now forced on others due to the impacts of the global pandemic.

Advances in technology allow occupiers to embrace this change and take this new way of working in their stride. Businesses will promote workstations, rather than fixed furniture, and encourage employees to use the office as a hub rather than a set location.

Requirements will naturally tighten, as occupiers seek less space, but a hot topic is how businesses will manage the agile space accordingly. One model will include a gym-like membership with an interactive app, where an employee can check the occupancy levels at the office before deciding whether to make the trip.

The demand for office still remains strong, with the need to provide good quality accommodation key to attracting and retaining the best talent.

The amount of space an occupier requires, and the occupancy levels proposed, will, however, differ across the market. The general perception is three-to-four working days in the office, with the rest of the time spent working from home or elsewhere.

But, once again, this is sector driven – for example, a traditional call centre will adopt a different strategy to, say, a law firm.

Landlords are monitoring these changes closely. In the short term, the need for “plug and play” flexible space is prevalent, with occupiers seeking short-term space while they review their property strategy.

The mid-to-long-term projection focuses on three key areas: flexible floorplates, high specification interiors and the ability to offer a CAT B fit out, either speculatively, or as part of a deal.

Whether 2020 is seen as merely a “speed bump” in wider economic and property times, or whether it will have far wider and a more deep-rooted impact ultimately remains to be seen.

Get in touch with Sanderson Weatherall to discuss your office requirements or find out how they’re helping businesses in their phased return to work.

Matthew Clarke
Partner, Sanderson Weatherall
Tel: 01642 426921