The global pandemic has forced us to rethink the way we live our daily lives, both at home and at work, accelerating some of the trends that had started shaping up way before 2020.
Covid-19 and the subsequent shift to homeworking have raised questions about the need for offices altogether, as it became clear that not having an office can help businesses save thousands of pounds, whilst allowing employees to cut out lengthy commutes and enjoy a healthier work/life balance.
In parallel, we’ve seen a growing number of Londoners choose to relocate outside of the capital to be able to afford bigger homes with access to outdoor space, now that daily commuting is no longer a necessity.
So should we be expecting the office to become obsolete?
I don’t believe the office is going anywhere. While a welcome development for some, homeworking can be a real ordeal for others, especially those with young children or living in house shares and forced to work from their kitchen or bed.
According to recent research by Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, working from home can trigger significant mental stress, leading to loneliness and depression. With very little separation between work and home, many are finding it difficult to disconnect and end up feeling anxious and overworked.
Physical wellbeing is also at risk – according to a survey by Institute for Employment Studies (IES), the lack of appropriate office furniture and unsuitable spatial arrangements can lead to shoulder, back and neck pains. Another consequence of full-time home working is increased alcohol consumption, admitted by 20 per cent of the respondents, and a decrease in physical activity, which affected 60 per cent of the survey participants.
There is a need for an intermediate solution to enable people to spend less time commuting whilst ensuring they can enjoy social interaction and a distraction-free environment to work in.
Could flexible offices in areas outside of central London be the answer to the question? With the need for social distancing and reduced use of public transport still in place, would it make sense for companies to adopt a hub and spoke model, with their main HQ still located in the capital, and several smaller satellite offices scattered across the country?
Keeping one main office and offering employees a co-working space membership would also be an attractive option from a wellbeing and cash flow perspective, helping reduce the amount of unoccupied space.
A recent JLL survey found that three in four workers hope to return to the office in the future, with half of the respondents being in favour of a hybrid model, allowing to strike a balance between remote and office working. In today’s uncertain climate, one thing is crystal clear: the office will need to adapt to reflect the changes in our lifestyle triggered by the pandemic, which can’t be easily undone.