By Christopher Mackenzie - Business Director, Real Estate
Having taken a break, I re-entered the working world this week - turns out I wasn’t the only one getting back on the (gravy) train. All the expectations of quiet and empty streets were dismissed as the Waterloo & City line was back to standing room only, although this time the obligatory face masks marked it as a different commuting era than before.
Regardless of the years gone by since you left school, September always feels like the start of a new term, and a great deal of employers have seen this as the right time to call staff back to the office. Although at this stage, it seems most businesses are not insisting on 5 days in the office, as even the employers who were most resistant to change have seen the benefits of working from home. It clearly doesn’t work for all and at all times, with collaboration and education being core elements that often benefit from face-to-face interaction. A recent survey by The Lorenz Consultancy states “41% of companies will only be returning to the office for 2 days per week”. The hybrid model being employed by the majority is certainly getting the most ‘likes’ on social media.
Taking close note to this change will be landlords, leasing agents and particularly the flexi-office sector, as companies try to work out what floor space they now need. The typical answer to that is “less of it”. On top of just square footage, an interesting comment from David Lockyer of British Land when speaking to CoStar was that “people are prepared to come back to better office space and environments” - highlighting the importance of a quality workplace. In the same article, Clare Bailey of Savills, backs that up by saying occupiers want space that is “high-quality, well-connected with good ESG credentials.” The consensus amongst property professionals is that the office sector is not dead (nor do turkeys vote for Christmas!), but that there will be changes over the next few months and years. Whether that is though layout focusing on ‘mission rooms’ to give collaboration spaces, versus traditional desk space, more zoom friendly facilities, a complete reduction in space or perhaps a change of location is yet to be fully seen.
There are many benefactors of this increased footfall to business districts, with the hospitality industry welcoming back queues at lunchtimes and drinks on the terrace in this late summer sun, not to mention the train operators!
Some won’t have noticed the significant changes this week and are carrying on as before, but for those getting back into a more regular commuting life, it will be interesting to see what change there might be from an employment perspective. Those demanding 5 days in the office might struggle to attract or retain talent when competing with a more flexible approach. Perversely, graduates might choose those with a more present workforce so they can learn, develop and socialise - as that is part of what work is about.
I for one am already enjoying being in the office - collaborating, learning and exploring the new local sandwich selections for lunch!