While the Government has understandably been leading the charge in calling on people to work from home in the interests of public health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic, there are those who believe this temporary arrangement signals the end of the office.
“Working from home” or WFH to employ the buzzy acronym may well be appealing to those who have already climbed the ladder, but what about the thirtysomethings and the other even younger generation of workers who still need the office environment to shape their business acumen and demonstrate their ability to contribute effectively beyond their remote daily outputs? How long before they question if working from home long term or “living at work” is in their best interest? How might it affect their career progression and income growth for example?
Flexible working or the “hybrid” model may well provide the solution judging by the movement of major tech firms such as Google and Facebook in this direction. But the office will remain the heart of these and other companies’ operations.
The office is where a company’s culture evolves, and where the learning and gaining of experience is at its most productive. It’s also where the early-career generation should be together with their older and more experienced colleagues to benefit from the combination of positive influence and experience.
While the recent lockdown of the economy saw the level of office take-up in Dublin fall to its lowest level in a number of years, our records show that the market still requires over 1 million sq ft of space.
But many of these decisions have been placed on hold as organisations look to grapple with the as-yet unknown longer-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic. As relocations and long-term lease commitments continue to be postponed, we will likely see an increase in existing lease re-gears, tenants sub-letting and larger employers looking for additional space to comply with social-distancing requirements.
While these are all prudent steps within the context of the current business climate, they are not long-term answers to the questions surrounding the future role of the office. Now is the time to consider how the office should evolve so that it can continue to provide a hub for practical, experience-based learning and career development for the next generation of workers.
With coronavirus looking like it will be with us for some time to come, lockdowns, be they at regional or national level, will remain the subject of debate between the medical experts and the politicians.
The rest of us, meanwhile, will just have to get on with life by applying common sense and by taking all the necessary precautions such as washing our hands, wearing masks and staying socially-distant so that we can safely co-exist with the virus.
How working from home fits in to that may well become a matter of choice for the foreseeable future, even where an effective treatment or vaccine for the disease is found. For those well advanced in their career, it might not matter. Those starting out, however, might want to ask themselves if they want to live at work, or whether they want to go back to the office and start living again.
Eunan O’Carroll is commercial director at QRE Real Estate Advisers