Chartered Institute of Building Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building

Opinion

What will post-covid office construction look like?

21 July 2020 | By Kara Thompson, Gleeds
Kara Thompson, Gleeds
Kara Thompson, Gleeds

The covid lockdown will be a catalyst for business owners to reconsider and redesign offices to suit flexible working – welcome to the ‘blended workspace’. By Kara Thompson

Just under 12 million of us usually work at desks in offices, according to official figures, and as many as 60% of them will have had to work at home while social distancing measures were in place. That’s around eight million people.

Will that shift lead to the demise of the traditional workspace and if so, what does that mean for office construction?

Companies have handed out laptops and teleconference passcodes and asked employees to find space at the kitchen table to work from home during a pandemic, but it’s questionable whether this will work as a long-term option.

Studies have shown working from home negatively impact team cohesion and Yahoo famously banned it several years ago. There is the loss of intellectual osmosis where ‘less experienced’ team members benefit from face-to-face mentoring and access to the wisdom of senior staff. Older generations can also learn from younger colleagues but working remotely limits interaction between different age groups and job roles.

Adapting and modifying workplaces

Gleeds’ project management team is often asked to look at the evolving workspace and how it can be adapted and modified to meet future need. From start-ups through to FTSE 100 companies, clients are now reviewing their real estate portfolios and considering a range of options for the post-covid era.

Everything from simple reconfigurations to complete refits are being discussed in a bid to make existing spaces compliant with social distancing requirements; screening installations, larger individual work spaces which all face in the same direction, enhanced provision for IT, and breakout spaces which may allow for group interaction at an acceptable distance.

In the longer term, businesses around the world are thinking about significantly reducing their property footprint. A recent PwC survey in the US found that a quarter of CFOs were already considering cutting back their real estate portfolios. The current crisis is driving corporate decision-makers to challenge existing assumptions on how they use their space, and how much they require.

But dispersing teams can affect collaboration and innovation in the longer term – which is where ‘blended workspaces’ come in.

The idea is that home working and office environments can be mutually complementary, with greater emphasis on the quality of the office space and amenities available. Those who thrive in a ‘work from home’ environment can still do so, but the office can provide face-to-face interaction with colleagues, and be a workspace for people who do not have a spare bedroom to work in.

So, we are not looking at the end of commercial offices. Rather, the covid lockdown will be a catalyst for business owners to reconsider and redesign these spaces. And the ‘blended workspace’ will evolve, as employers work out the best approach to flexible working.

Kara Thompson is head of London project management at Gleeds Management Services.

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