Repeated surveys have shown that individuals working remotely from home are not unhappy with the situation. The majority have enjoyed making the adjustment, avoiding the commute, and have greater flexibility. Likewise, most have become progressively more adept at using online tools for collaborating, learning, and socializing. It’s therefore little wonder that the future of office spaces is in question. Many companies are trying to envision what workplaces after COVID will look like. And while the precise picture remains obscure, everyone is certain it will be quite different.
For employers, there are a number of unknowns regarding the future of office spaces as we move into 2021. Will employees remain content working from home or will they prefer to return to an office setting? Which office activities will require an on-site presence? Some suggest that people will want to move back outside their homes after the pandemic simply because they are social creatures. But this may not necessarily mean returning to the way things were. All of these factors make it challenging to predict what workplaces after COVID will look like.
“We’re in the midst of companies reconsidering how their employees are working, and that will take time. There’s a subset of workers now who believe that they can work from home and continue their productivity. You’re not getting all of them back.” – Doug Wulf, Executive Managing Director, Cushman & Wakefield
A Forced Reassessment of Workplaces
The pandemic has certainly made it more obvious that workplaces after COVID won’t likely be the same. With most people working from home at least part of the time, many assume this has been a recent revelation. But that’s not actually the case. Several companies were already reassessing the future of office spaces including many major technology firms. Google, Apple, and Amazon had begun decentralizing their workplaces. Stripe had actually established a virtual remote work hub in order to attract better IT and engineering talent. Even prior to COVID, some changes regarding officer spaces were occurring.
With the pandemic, however, everyone was forced to reconsider the future of office spaces. Suddenly, many businesses realized they could reduce their costs, particularly in real estate holdings. Likewise, studies began showing there was little if any loss of productivity from employers working from home. And surveys showed employers preferred this arrangement, no longer having to waste commute times. In essence, the pandemic served as a major catalyst to change in many ways. And this certainly has involved how businesses are considering workplaces after COVID.
“I think the work from home trend is happening but I don’t think that’s a long-term trend that is a viable solution. People want third spaces to work.” – Brian Burch, Managing Partner, Burch Partners
Will Coworking Spaces Make a Comeback?
With the onset of the pandemic, nearly all coworking spaces took a big hit. Faced with lockdowns, social distancing, and widespread COVID concerns, many aborted these workplaces. This along with major catastrophes in the industry like the fall of WeWork suggested the sector might be doomed. But experts think this will likely be the future of office spaces. In fact, they suggest that all office spaces will be flexible by 2030 and that coworking spaces will fill a large void. These will likely be among the preferred workspaces after COVID.
The writing is already on the wall in this regard. Many businesses are exploring shared workspaces after COVID besides those traditionally considered coworking locales. For example, Starbucks and Citizen M are beginning to offer bookable workspaces by the hour. Residential places like Avalon Bay Communities and Equity Residential are adding meeting spaces and offices to their footprints. In essence, these types of businesses as well as coworking spaces will likely reflect the immediate future of office spaces.
“In 2021, if a lot of people can get the vaccine and get people back to work, then I think things will change. But right now, most people are seeing coworking not coming back fully until 2022.” – David Wiener, Senior Vice President, Colliers International
The Coming Year Will Be a Transitional One
In looking ahead to the future of office spaces, some current trends are noteworthy. For one, business leases are already increasing in activity from 29 percent to 51 percent. This has occurred for two reasons. First, the pandemic has encouraged more businesses to lease office space rather than purchase. Second, leases are being made for shorter periods of time due to the uncertainty. This suggests 2021 will be a transitional year as businesses try to determine what the workspaces after COVID will be.
Part of this determination will go beyond whether or not remote work or coworking spaces will be the larger trend. More importantly. Businesses will need to figure out what amenities will be needed in the future of office spaces. For example, workplaces after COVID will still need common areas for some activities. This includes things like focused work, brainstorming sessions, training seminars, and broad presentations. But with the advances in collaborative and videoconferencing tools, even these may not be a necessity. Thus, businesses are waiting to see how things evolve before committing further.
The Future of Office Spaces
In recent surveys, workers report that 40 percent of workplaces fail to provide creative environments. Likewise, many enjoy the conveniences of working at home, including the lack of an extensive commute. However, the home is not ideal for all work activities. Thus, the future of office spaces likely involves hybrid models. This means workplaces after COVID will probably be closer to home and utilized part-time. Coworking spaces, satellite offices, and rentable areas may well be the norm as a result. While the exact formula isn’t yet known, one thing is certain. Workplaces after COVID won’t be the same as before. Businesses that figure out what works best for them will undoubtedly be those with a clear competitive advantage.
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