WHY BUSINESSES NEED OFFICES
With the easing of lockdown restrictions on 19th July, one question that is being asked almost daily is what is the future of offices? Will working from home be the new normal? Will there be a lot of business trying to surrender their leases or not renewing at the end of their current term?
As a commercial property practitioner acting for both landlords and tenants, I am naturally biased and look optimistically to the return of a buoyant occupational market, however, home working has been a good short-term solution for businesses. But it may not be a feasible long-term substitute for office-based working.
Working from home is not a new phenomenon. The way in which people were working pre-COVID19 was changing and the last 16 months has only accelerated this change. Across all industries, businesses have been investing more in staff wellness and working culture including an increase in flexible working. Working from home offers some wonderful benefits notably, more family time and no commute.
My answer to the question is that the future of working will entail the best of both working from home and in the office. In that way flexibility and staff wellbeing continues to be promoted. Removing the office environment in its entirety is perhaps not the best option for businesses. There are many reasons why.
They provide a place for learning
You can gain as much theoretical information and learning from courses, university, schooling, books etc., but nothing quite prepares you for working in the real world. Workers can learn more in the first few months of being in an office than any course, lecture or book could provide. Attending meetings with colleagues, overhearing phone conversations, interacting with co-workers and shadowing superiors and mentors all provide this and add to the learning process. It is a wise employer who understands this. To bounce ideas, thoughts and questions off your colleagues is always important. It gives your employees an in built “back up” system. To think you could gain this experience remotely or over a Zoom call is simply unrealistic.
They allow a collaborative space with energy and vibrancy
Working with other people in a collaborative environment keeps the mind and body energised. As mentioned by Forbes magazine; “Being together virtually just doesn’t have the same magic – some people are engaged, some are distracted, some are multitasking and some are having technical difficulties.” There is no substantial replacement for face-to-face interaction. Working within a group culture increases communication and creates collaborative discussion resulting in increased efficiency.
Attracting new talent
As businesses seek to find quality talent to hire, the emphasis on an inviting, cohesive and dynamic working environment has never been so important. Presenting new employees with the opportunity to work solely from their homes is not as enticing as working in an office-based environment, at least part of the time. Most people generally crave the in-person, face to face interaction with colleagues, especially new ones. Company culture is so important to businesses and this would never be achieved with staff only having virtual relationships with one another. Company culture centred around the office should be seen by business owners as an investment, not a liability. Even a sales force who spend most of their working day “on the road” benefit from regular sales meetings and office time.
A healthy state of mind
For many workers, working from home often entails a cramped spare bedroom, the dining room table, or a desk in the garage. Many employees are unable to face the prospect of spending the working week sitting alone and staring at the wall in the spare-bedroom, dining room or garage. Whilst there are people who have offices at their homes, this is a minority.
The home becomes a place of work which makes it hard to compartmentalise and know how to switch off between work and home life. Employees need to have a good work/life balance and to be able to physically distance themselves from work makes it easier to dissociate themselves mentally and achieve that much desired healthy work/life balance. No employer wants their best employees burning out because the laptop in the spare room is a constant magnet. How many times in the last 16 months have employees working from home thought to themselves “Oh, I’ll just check my emails and…………”?
Business have been able to operate throughout the pandemic with varying efficiency but, how different this would have been if relationships with clients had not already been established. It may be that the only reason many businesses have still operated ‘as usual’ is because of the strong pre-existing client/staff relationships that have been fostered over time through numerous face-to-face encounters.
Without these prior personal interactions, it is hard to think how these lasting relationships would have been created. Telephone, email, Zoom calls, etc., fall far short of the trust that a personal one to one, face to face interaction can achieve.
Trust is the key word in all business interactions, both with clients and customers and between employers and employees. Trust that you can produce the same quality and quantity of output regardless of whether you are working from home or the office. Staff and business alike will be increasingly appraised more on results than ‘presenteeism’.
What is the future?
For Tenants, it seems clear that there will be more working from home, but this is not the future. The future has to be the best of both, office working with the flexibility to work from home when this can be done efficiently. Tenants will need to look carefully at their current needs, their future needs and work closely with their current or prospective landlords to enable them to achieve their goals in this respect.
And for Landlords? Probably the demand for shorter lease terms, smaller premises, flexible space and as the demand for smaller premises increase more flexibility in their leases to allow the Tenant to share occupation of their space with undertenants.
It is difficult to predict the future, if I had a crystal ball I would be winning the lottery every week, but I can see that the office will still have a place in commerce for most “office based” businesses. Employees need to have a sense of belonging to an organisation and clients and customers need to have a focal point to enable them to build relationships and trust with the businesses that they do business with.
The size and type of premises may change and the rents and terms of the leases of those premises may change but I think that, as the world and economy recovers from the current COVID19 pandemic offices will still be here in one form or another.
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