Covid-19 has changed the office for good

The pandemic has accelerated the movement towards a more agile way of working

 Charlemont Square, Dublin: will have a public realm space as its focal point, offering tenants and residents retail and food and beverage offerings, together with outdoor space. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Charlemont Square, Dublin: will have a public realm space as its focal point, offering tenants and residents retail and food and beverage offerings, together with outdoor space. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

JLL has recently completed a research document outlining the top 10 global corporate real estate trends for 2021. As you would expect, the top trends include “hybrid working”, an increased focus on employee health and wellbeing, the race to net zero carbon emissions, and technology as an enabler.

Interestingly, although the flexible workspace offering has taken quite a hit in the last year, it is still seen as a key strategic tool in corporate real estate to drive agility in portfolios post-Covid.

The pandemic has accelerated the change to a more agile way of working and an alternative way in which we will use our office spaces in the future. Some 50 per cent of respondents to JLL’s survey said they would like a mix of office and remote working, with an average of 2.4 days a week at home.

But while there are benefits to working from home, many people have hit zoom fatigue and the challenges faced with the merging of home and office have become tiresome. While it remains to be seen how the office-home balance will play out, what is certain is that companies and workers will not go back to the way things were. Having said that, the office will remain a focal point for employers and workers alike.

JLL’s survey found that over three-quarters of respondents still want the ability to come into the office, while 70 per cent consider the office to be the best place for team building and connecting with management.

The office is important for socialisation and collaboration. Companies value their culture, and it is extremely difficult to foster this in a scenario where everyone is working from home on a permanent basis.

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Another important factor in the return to the office is based around the sharing of knowledge. Only time will tell, but a knowledge gap is being created from an extended period of lockdown. The damage being caused by the current inability of workers to learn on site from colleagues or to share ideas in so-called water cooler meetings is, at this point, inestimable.

Evolution

So how will the office evolve? If you look at how office space is occupied by the large tech firms, there are far less of the traditional rows of desks employers have relied on and much more of a focus on collaboration space. This is how I see the office of the future across all sectors.

Outside areas will be very important, too, with many new developments looking carefully at their public realm space with a view to fostering a community spirit. As part of this, city centre local authorities will look to big occupiers to participate in the community rather than confining all the catering and other amenities to their own buildings.

One good example of this new kind of office is Charlemont Square in Dublin city centre. Due for completion in the final quarter of this year, this scheme will have a public realm space as its focal point, offering tenants and residents retail and food and beverage offerings, together with outdoor space.

A good work-life balance is now equally as important as securing a good salary. Widespread remote working is putting pressure on employers to provide for their people both in the office and their homes.

According to our report, 58 per cent of employees prioritise working in a company that ensures their physical and mental wellbeing.

Unsurprisingly, 59 per cent of those surveyed by IBM for its recent report, Covid-19 and the future of business 2020, say that the pandemic has accelerated their digital transformation. Even companies that would never have previously approved of the hybrid-working model were forced to adapt and alter their entire system, to allow their employees to operate safely and efficiently from home.

What I did not expect from our own survey was the response of CEOs. Some 40 per cent of those who participated believe their CIO or tech leader will be the key driver of business strategy over the next 12 months – more than the CFO, COO and CMO combined.

We believe the trends that drove explosive growth in the market will continue to drive demand after the pandemic. As workers begin returning to the office, business continuity and operational resilience will come to the fore for tenants. Flexible space is quick and easy to acquire, and tenants will turn to it as a solution for smaller, satellite offices that reduce commute times and dependence on public transport.

Deirdre Costello is senior director of office leasing at JLL Ireland