Most of the research being released predicting what a post-Covid-19 workplace will be like “is based on opinion because the pandemic is still fairly active” and cannot be deemed a wholly realistic idea of what to prepare for, according to an academic.
Alexi Marmot, professor of facility & environment management at the Bartlett Real Estate Institute at UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, told Facilitate that it is still “early in the Covid-19 crisis” yet we are being “overwhelmed by research and surveys about what will happen”.
Marmot said: “We have to be aware of speculation versus reality and opinion versus action.” She urged people to keep asking questions about whether the data was good enough to be deemed as realistic.
Marmot was speaking as a global report to look at the impact of the Future of Work on real estate and cities over the next three to five years was published by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and EY.
The Future of Work 2020: A Global Real Estate Players’ Point of View report is based on surveying 555 real estate professionals worldwide. The broad range of respondents included investors, developers, architects, planners and other service providers. The research focused on a time horizon beyond the immediate short-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It foresees “a strong focus on flexibility, demanded by both workers and corporates, not only relating to the work activity but also the space and location” and that “this increased flexibility is likely to lead to a flight to quality over quantity of office space and a move towards flexible and tailormade leasing models”.
According to the report, real estate professionals “overwhelmingly expect increased remote working, including more homeworking (96 per cent), more remote working away from the home (72 per cent) and more use of satellite offices at the edge of cities (67 per cent)”.
It added: “The resulting ecosystem of workplaces will accelerate a blending of uses between residential, hospitality and office spaces, and a shift in language from ‘office’ to ‘workspace’.”
Marmot said remote working was already being thought about because "some of the complexities would be nice to think about". She said, for instance, will businesses and facilities management teams "need to get more involved with remote working at home? Will we be seeing more intervention?"
She also brought up the question of what the mounting costs for the management of buildings mean if rigorous cleaning regimes were to be maintained. Marmot also pointed out that people could not be expected to go back to work if they did not feel safe. She said trust was key between employee and employer/landlord and FM "to really be doing their job properly".
She said: "You can't see if a surface has been cleaned properly, with the right materials. Those are hidden assumptions and we don't really explore them but we need to." But she added that it was "a golden opportunity for FM to prove how important they are". Marmot said that "in the past FM was not appreciated but now its work is mission-critical".