The Future of the Office

17th August 2020

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As the country continues to transition out of lockdown with the opening of schools and an increase on those returning to the workplace, organisations are re-evaluating their working practices, and re-imagining how the office experience can be adapted to suit new demands for safer, more flexible, and desirable office locations.

With statistics from the ONS suggesting that almost half of employed people have worked from home over lockdown, with no obvious negative impact on productivity, it could be tempting to suggest that the days of the office are numbered.

However, business consultancy McKinsey suggests that whilst it is true that the use of technology and remote working systems has resulted in many people happily and productively working from home over the lockdown period, that in the long term this could be at the expense of corporate culture and shared learning experiences that can flourish in an office environment.

Instead, it is likely that the workplace of the future will be based on a blended model, with home working and the use of modern, flexible, and safe office spaces becoming the norm.

McKinsey note that technology will play a huge role in the return to the office, particularly when a vaccine is not yet developed.  Technology and smart buildings will allow workplaces to track the number of people in a building, when they can enter a particular space, and even whether or not the airflow is sufficient for the number of people within the building.

Developers are already taking these considerations into account with the design and construction of new office spaces.  Construction Enquirer reports that London property developer Derwent is changing the way it develops office spaces, creating what they describe as ‘long-life loose-fit’ offices, which are more adaptable and include higher ceilings and high specification ventilation systems, with a focus on larger communal areas that facilitate collaboration but allow for appropriate distancing.

There is an acknowledgement across the board that although the response to coronavirus has accelerated the increase of home working and the requirement for more flexible, collaborative work spaces, that this trend was on the increase even before the pandemic as employees and employers looked for ways to increase collaboration and productivity, and offer more flexible working patterns to retain and attract talent.  For this reason, the ‘new’ office must do more than just manage contagion risks for the current and any future pandemic. It must provide a space that is desirable, encourages collaboration, offers flexibility, and provides the reassurance of safety for the organisation and workforce of the future.