For many years there has been a lot of noise that improvements in connectivity via new technologies would result in a drop in demand for office space because so people would be working from home.
Many will now say that working from home has been tested and it can work, and I agree, it can.
I have always been an advocate of agile working and we should maximise the technology open to us, but what is happening at the moment is not really remote working. Never has technology been tested to such an extent as it is now, and combined with a massive shift in behavioural attitudes towards remote working, it has resulted in crisis management for many in keeping teams together and motivated.
Remote working involves a well thought-out scenario where individuals have an agreed remote working policy with their employers and are set up at home to carry out this work. What we are living through now is more of a crisis management scenario and people are juggling – using the technology that enables working from home for the first time, along with having their families all at home with them and no structured childcare which can all be overwhelming to say the least.
There have been numerous headlines calling for “the end of the office” and I don’t disagree. The office as it was, certainly is no more. What we have now is the modern-day office which offers people so much more than merely desk space. The value of belonging and sense of community you have with your colleagues can only be created in an office environment.
The benefit of the current scenario is that it will perhaps push many reluctant participants into agile or remote working, to change their behavioural attitudes to what is possible.
The emergence of a hybrid model where people work predominantly in an office but have greater flexibility to allow remote working is here to stay.
In a modern office fit-out, the collaborative space within the office is equally as important as the desk space. Humans are hypersocial creatures and all the evidence suggests that we work best as part of a team.
I don’t foresee a drop in demand for office space due to remote working, however, what we will continue to see is the office space being used differently. We may also experience a continued growth in the trend where companies bi-locate, enabling them to tap into talent pools in different locations and perhaps be able to recruit staff without any location barriers in place.
In terms of the impact on the co-working office sector, I think it will vary. The very nature of the “flex space” market is that it provides occupiers with the ability to scale up quickly and without many of the approval procedures that a traditional lease requires. The flip side is that it also allows companies to scale back on these licence agreements in a downturn. Some companies will be looking at space held under this model if there is a cost-cutting operation underway.
Another risk for smaller occupiers in traditional flex or co-working spaces in the coronavirus pandemic is the lack of control over their space in terms of ensuring that everybody complies with guidelines in respect of cleaning surfaces, shared amenities etc. Many of the flex providers may have to look at revisiting rental agreements as occupiers are likely to challenge payments given that they currently aren’t able to access their workspace.
Dublin is well positioned to weather the Covid-19 storm given the mix of occupiers in the city from all sectors. The employment risk will be felt by those working on a contract basis for some of the big global occupiers rather than those directly employed by them.
Deirdre Costello is senior director at JLL’s office agency division