The post-COVID workplace faces two conflicting trends: 1) Less people due to streamlining, and remote work policies and 2) the need for compliance with social distancing imperatives. Lockdowns brought huge global economic setbacks, and the uncertainty prevailing in the absence of a vaccine, means that many companies are reviewing their operational models. The endgame remains enhanced productivity and safety. Remote work has fared better than many expected, and downsizing office space appears to be an option for some.
The German government aims to include a new ‘right to work from home’ in its employment law, meaning that every employee will be entitled to work from home. According to a 2020 KPMG survey, 65% of companies are downsizing. 73% of UK businesses are relocating or seeking lower rentals, however 57% need offices for collaboration and client touchpoints. This could include desks, and multi-purpose meeting and teamwork areas. By 2017 10% of Europeans were working from home some of the time; the pandemic merely accelerated this number. Companies already engaging in remote work have found downsizing easier, with tech companies and Finance leading the way.
It is evident that downsizing is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Culture, nature of tasks, industry trends and economics need to be factored in. Some trends include a staggered return to the office, rotational, and blended work. Automation and voice technology will improve safety, and density monitoring systems may be implemented. Commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield, is testing a new social distancing office called “Six Feet Office” They used it successfully in Asia returning 1,000,000 workers to the office. It includes an evidenced-based assessment tool to understand how employees feel about the new environment.
London-based small and medium-sized enterprises with < 249 employees could save £18,600 annually by implementing flexible working, and downsizing office space. Remote work allows recruitment of top talent across wide geographies at reduced cost. Savings could fund digital enablers, safer facilities, emergency funds, home offices, and remote hubs. Existing long-term leases could see interim redesign, sub-letting, and co-working. In future, shorter, more flexible leases would be feasible.
Nothing is cast in stone, and the Future Workplace might follow a hybrid model of home, office- and remote work bringing new nuances to organizational effectiveness.