According to a survey undertaken by international real estate advisor Savills, up to 89% of respondents believe that physical office space remains a necessity for companies to operate successfully, but the office is set to change.
The survey, which explores how people have responded to working from home and what the future impacts on office space might be, was sent to 65,000 clients during the lockdown period of Covid-19, in late April.
The majority of respondents believe there will be a long-term impact on the design and size of the workplace (71% and 74% respectively). For many, home-working has changed the purpose of existing office space with an emphasis on in-person collaboration, decreasing desk space allocation and reducing occupational density. In future, offices will need more social hubs to support team working, face-to-face meetings and events that enhance shared learning, career development and the reinforcement of a company’s brand and culture. The balance of these factors, however, including an increase in flexible and remote working, is predicted not to impact significantly, if at all, on the total demand for office space.
As seen in recent years, the office will continue to play an essential role in attracting and retaining the future generation of talent. Indeed 18-24 year olds continue to display a clear preference for the office, with 25% still expecting to spend no time at home post-lockdown, down from 50%; the highest of any age category.
Savills survey found that whilst the highest proportion of respondents, (62%) currently work in towns or cities, future preferences could see this figure drop by 23%. In contrast, those who want to work in rural locations increased from 5% to 10%, whilst home working saw the largest increase, rising from 14% to 35%. Savills also found that length of commute directly correlated to people’s working from home experience, suggesting a potential shift towards a ‘hub & spoke’ model, with organisations retaining a city centre presence, whilst also utilising regional and local office hubs. The data clearly indicates a shift towards greater choice of where and how people will work and the further development of ‘third spaces’, such as serviced offices more proximate to, but outside of the home environment.
Jeremy Bates, executive director and head of occupier services EMEA, comments: “The death of the office scenario explored by many over the past few months is clearly contradicted in this survey where we have found that a balance is required in order to best meet the needs of employees. The experience of remote or home working has been felt very differently by people across social and age groups. The consensus is that mental and physical health, personal growth and a separation between home and work life must be supported in both locations.
Ultimately video conferencing is no substitute for face-to-face contact.
“Undoubtedly, location strategies and improved business resilience are key themes arising from the pandemic and we can expect to see this impact on a greater diversity of workplace locations without a reduction in demand for city centre office space. Ultimately, it is important to note that the survey results are a reflection of how people felt early on during lockdown and this is likely to change now that restrictions are beginning to lift. This is why we must continue to survey opinion even once the worst of Covid-19 is behind us.”
Savills notes that in order to support a return to the workplace, office design must better reflect a future mobile workforce with up to 67% of respondents prepared to desk share once it is safe to do so. In the mid to longer term, this could see high-density open plan workspaces reduce in volume and morph into more diverse office environments to support this new way of working.
A focus on use of space and amenities is anticipated. All categories regarding amenities scored higher in importance against how well they are currently supported. For instance, 81% of people feel that dedicated quiet zones are important but only 27% felt they were provided for reflecting the largest disparity at 54%. Small meeting rooms with AV and VC facilities were also prioritised by 96%, with full team meeting spaces and social breakout areas by 91%, emphasising the need for employees to feel connected.
Simon Collett, executive director and head of building & project consultancy, adds: “Covid-19 is essentially fast-forwarding the implementation of change in office design that was already underway, in line with the industry’s vision for a better workplace experience. We can expect to see companies reacting in many different ways dependent on their core business needs. Office design fundamentally will focus on facilitating heightened well-being, productivity and collaboration between people. This will apply to those who make up the more traditional office occupiers, as well as sectors that are set to see continued expansion such as life sciences and technology.