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Why your remote workforce still needs an office to call home.

October 13, 2020 / United Kingdom

The decision’s been made; the strategy’s been set. Your business is making such a success of WFH, the board has decided it’s here to stay.

Office lettings in London dropped 57% in Q2 2020 compared to Q1, for example. Is this the future of corporate real estate? 

And where does that leave you, the real estate or facilities manager? Scrambling to rehash your CV and brainstorming your transferable skills?

Not yet. 

Rethinking real estate in a post-COVID world 

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust homeworking into the spotlight, but remote working isn’t new. Positives of WFH have been discussed for years: nearly quarter of a million more UK workers started working remotely over the last decade. 

Despite that shift, few companies have abandoned corporate offices entirely. 

Flexible working has increased five-fold in two decades, and global demand for flexible office spaces has grown by 50% over five years. But having a central nucleus for people to work from is still the norm.

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on what employees expect and need from their space, of course. But that’s likely to trigger evolution, not a total break from what’s come before.

Yes, there’s a cost-savings implication if businesses move away from office space for good – British office space is the most expensive in the world.

But will we reach a point where cost-savings are prioritised over employee needs? 

74% of UK employees say they want to split time 50/50 between home and the office after all this. It would be risky to ignore those needs completely. 

Will we reach a point where cost-savings are prioritised over commercial success drivers?  

“Taking risks and creativity, essential for businesses, generally happens in groups, real groups – not in a virtual space”, says Sadie Morgan from London-based dRMM. Likewise, risky to choose cost-savings over innovation. 

The truth is, businesses will likely continue wanting physical offices for the same reason they’ve always wanted physical offices: because engagement and productivity drive profitability. 

COVID-19 definitely heralds change though. 

It’s up to real estate and facilities teams to rethink corporate real estate, to create a roadmap to shared space that considers and complements the new needs of the workforce. 

  • If employees split their time, how will the types of work they do in each place change? Workstations might be less relevant, for example, because working alone via a screen makes sense remotely. 
  • If offices are predominantly used for collaborative, face-to-face, creative work, can offices work harder to facilitate that process? If employees use offices more intentionally – to connect how they can’t from home – they need spaces that facilitate connection and foster a sense of shared purpose. 
  • If employees spend half their time at home, what responsibilities do businesses have to control those spaces, to help homeworking time be productive and safe? Perhaps facilities teams should kit out home offices with appropriate ergonomic equipment, high-speed internet, lighting and so on.
  • If the pandemic continues long-term, how can we minimise contact and cross-contamination? What new facilities maintenance challenges might we face? What role can automation play, and touchless technology? 

What’s really changed is, the days of going to the office ‘just because’ are over. If employees choose to work from the office, it will be because the office facilitates connection, creativity and collaboration.  

Real estate and facilities managers must build shared spaces around this idea of purposeful connection. 

This blog is part of The team that Eats together initiative, a content series exploring what normal looks like now, and how to enhance the working world to meet evolved employee expectations.

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The views and opinions expressed are based on the research conducted and they do not intend to present an official policy of Uber or any of its subsidiaries. Examples of advice mentioned in this article are based on open source information and assumptions made within the article are not reflective of Uber’s position.