Remote working has been the new norm during the COVID-19 pandemic and finding it successful more and more companies are intending to continue the practice after the pandemic is over. Some companies such as Twitter have already offered employees to permanently work from home, whilst others will offer this a sustainable option for those who would like this added flexibility. The emergence of homeworking, however necessary has led to a visible and projected shift in the real estate market. More people are looking to live in more rural or idealistic areas outside of the city as the morning commute is no longer a concern, others are looking for bigger houses to incorporate a home office. The landscape and requirements of real estate could therefore change drastically due to new working practices.
This also means that office spaces may change too – with more people working from home, office spaces could become smaller, as companies choose to reduce costs by renting out smaller premises, they could move to more rural areas as the cost of renting in the city is higher. Apartment buildings could incorporate office spaces and meeting rooms or company meetings could be held in public or rented spaces. This does not mean that the office will become obsolete, one size does not fit all and many companies will still need to maintain an office space for the functioning of their business. Yet, these office spaces may still need to adapt to the post-pandemic world. What are, therefore, the predictions for the post-pandemic office? What will it look like?
The Role of The ‘Office’
The necessary move to remote working has shown many companies that their businesses can function well, remotely. This has then caused a shift in the perceived role of the work space; if the routine and practical tasks of a business function can be done from home – what purpose does an office space serve? Thus, many believe that the office space will reside as a hub for the companies’ culture, collaboration, social interaction and teamwork. The Guardian writes: ‘with individual workstations effectively relocated to people’s kitchens and living rooms, offices are being reconfigured as places that primarily exist for teamwork and collaborative activity – albeit with strict social distancing measures in place and partitions separating different teams and departments.’ Therefore, office spaces may not be eliminated but shifted to a focus on meetings, training, team-building, collaboration and interaction whilst adapting to an individual’s needs of flexibility, offering the opportunity of homeworking for childcare, health appointments, wellbeing and so forth.
Offices across the world have scrambled to become ‘COVID-safe’ during the pandemic, emphasizes on social distancing, sanitization and air filtration have been of the highest priority. Therefore, post-pandemic offices could be refurbished or built with safety in mind. This could be anything from building suitable ventilation systems, improved cleaning, antimicrobial surfaces, larger desk spaces, outdoor space, stairwells over enclosed lifts, minimizing frequently touched surfaces and so forth – with touchless solutions etc.
As already touched on, many employees have found a greater happiness from home-working. The flexibility of working from home – even part time – has allowed people to find a better work-home-life balance, making them happier and in turn more productive. Some people have opted to relocate, to more rural areas, a more spacious home or closer to loved ones due to this, or simply have enjoyed spending more time with family. Therefore, there will be many who will not want to give up the opportunity to work from home and will want companies to be more supportive and flexible when it comes to their home lives.
If more people opt to work from home, even just part time, it may mean that offices could reduce their size and function differently. Some offices may opt for apps that can identify who will be in the office and when to optimise functionality. Elvira Muñoz Beraza, director of the master’s in strategic design of spaces at IE School of Architecture and Design, in Madrid, spoke to The Guardian:
‘Beraza is focused on how offices can evolve to meet the changing needs of a company and its employees. “I believe the design of the workplace will need to focus on a hybrid combination of physical and virtual, of individual and collective, of internal and external actions, tasks and collaboration.” She notes the importance of supporting a hybrid form of office and remote work. “Remote working should stay, combined with physical encounters. Remote work is sustainable because it provides more choice and is more inclusive and diverse. The nine-to-five office culture is gone for good.”