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June 2020 News

Will we see a return to decentralised workplaces and a move away from city centres? 

17 June 2020

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Will we see a return to decentralised workplaces and a move away from city centres? Our Head of Office and Mixed-Use Agency Zack Berman gives his views on the changing office landscape and what the future might hold.

Right now, many of us are taking stock and asking ourselves what we can learn from this extraordinarily challenging time so we can adapt, future-proof, and look at how we can get back to work.

Now we’ve dealt with the realities of working from home and settled on our daily routines, conversation has quickly turned to the office and what it symbolises to the success of our businesses going forward. We have all faced the unprecedented challenge of mobilising staff to work from home and some are now questioning the benefits of having an office at all. But there’ll be a time where we need, and indeed should, discuss the issues it’s presented too.

While I’m a strong supporter of flexible working, I don’t think we’ve had enough time to properly evaluate the success of this forced human experiment to make a serious decision on how it could shape the way we work in the future. First, we need to look at how people’s productivity levels have been affected – can we all confidently say we’ve been at our most productive at home? – and secondly, we need to assess the impact this had on people’s mental, physical health and general wellbeing, taking into account the majority of us don’t have adequate space to work from home and this would need to be addressed long-term.

Understandably, no one has the answers yet, but that is exactly why we shouldn’t be rushing to make any snap decisions without looking at the evidence first. What we need to do right now is focus on how we can get people back to work safely, and while flexible working will certainly form part of that approach, businesses need to look at how they can be physically present in the workplace too.

One of the biggest challenges we’ll face is accommodating social distancing in the workplace. Under new government rules, businesses need to adapt their offices to be “COVID-19 Secure”, which means a move away from hot-desking to allocated seating across a wider floorplan, as well as installing additional safety measures such one-way systems and reducing social space where workers would normally congregate.

Businesses will be looking at the amount of space they have – and need – to get people back to work safely. If you’re an occupier with a break clause or a lease expiry due, then now’s the time to start negotiating with your landlord. If there’s an option to take up additional space, discuss how you might be able to do that at the same cost.

If you can’t afford additional space where you are right now, then you should be looking at the type of building and location you originally wanted and what you’re willing to sacrifice to get the space you want. In a socially distanced world, location may not be the biggest driver in our decision making and businesses could make gains by moving further out. For example, areas such as Stratford, Walthamstow and Holloway are not only more affordable in terms of price per sq ft but are served by excellent transport links.

Because of the nature of what Glenny does as a business, we were already using our space at a lower rate of occupancy and we were in the process of adopting a more agile approach through activity-based working. The point is what we’re seeing in the workplace right now isn’t exactly new in terms of technology and flexible ways of working – the current situation has just accelerated its wide-scale implementation by a few years.

While I don’t have a crystal ball that can predict the future, what I do know is that occupiers will still need office space. But how much space they take, and where they take it, is another question altogether.

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