I yield to no one in my admiration for the office as a social centre, but it’s no place actually to get any work done.
– Katharine Whitehorn, View from a Column (1981)
The king is dead; long live the king. The dominance of centralised office space as the lynchpin of our working environment has changed and it has changed for good (or, at least, until it changes again). The last eight months of life with covid have shown us that we don’t need to sit in close proximity of all our colleagues to be productive. In fact, anecdotal comments during lockdown suggest the opposite: people are more productive outside the office as long as they are given the right tools, and space, to work at home. Witness the epigraph of this article; offices were never the best place to work.
Although, this evolution towards home-working or, eventually, a mix of remote working with ‘social space touchdown’ in smaller, maybe less central, locations has been developing for a number of years. Prior to covid, 20% of staff worked at home and the number has been gradually creeping up each year. All that covid has done is to accelerate the rate of change. What would have taken five to ten years to evolve has happened almost overnight. The pandemic was a catalyst and not a reactant. The change that we are experiencing was going to happen anyway.
So, what are the repercussions and the likely trends that will emerge? Well, as with all things, there is a lot of informed and not so well informed conjecture about the future of offices as a work environment and, more so, as a property investment. For the former, there are a wealth of really insightful reports from most of the big real estate consultants (CBRE, Cluttons, Colliers, Cushman & Wakefield, JLL, Knight Frank, Montagu Evans, Savills, etc.), all of which are downloadable for free at their respective websites.