Will We Be Going Back to the Same Office?

Will We Be Going Back to the Same Office?

As Lockdown starts to ease across the UK and the rest of the world, people are looking forward to being un-furloughed and going back to work.  Some of us are even looking forward to getting in to the office!

But will we be going back to the office at all, and if we do, will it be the same?

Many companies have realized that their workforce are just as productive at home as they are in the office, even when working around homeschooling, and it seems prescient that a vast majority of the work force will continue to work from home, or be allowed the flexibility to work from home when they need to, and plan around family and caring commitments.

So what does that mean for the office space?  “We’ve been talking to numerous clients and the majority believe there will continue to be a need for offices in the future, but how we design a shared space and use it will certainly be different,” says Nicky Wightman, Director of Savills Occupier Trends.  

In a chat with Nicky we touched on the topic that lots of office landlords are asking, which is: are companies going to downsize to smaller offices?  This might be because they’ve had to let staff go and so need less space, but it might also just be because there won’t be as many staff in the office.  However, there’s no crystal ball to predict what knock on effects are going to happen, and the trends will depend on the impending recession caused by Covid 19.

As for the future of co-working spaces Nicky was quick to point out that she expects the sector may even benefit from any long term uncertainty as companies accelerate their use of flexible space in their portfolio.  What we might see happening is that companies may buy coworking memberships for their staff to have a “hub” which they can go to when they need, instead of having an office space at all.

Coworking spaces might lead to satellite offices, which would negate the need for staff to commute in to London as well.  If the company knows it has a large amount of staff commuting in from Kent or Peterborough, they may well find a small office space in a town here for their staff, to be used flexibly.  Facility managers at the City of London Corperation have started to think that we've seen the end of the 30,000ft - 60,000ft offices, and that smaller spaces of 1000ft - 5000ft are going to become more popular.

Nicola Phillips at Peldon Rose (an office design and build company in London) has already had these conversations with clients.  They appear to be consolidating space in the center of London, and looking in to smaller satellite offices.  This will take agile working to the next level, where not only will staff have the option of different types of spaces in which to work, but they’ll also have the option of working from home, the head quarters, the satellite office, or even from the car when doing the school pickup, if staff are offered flexible working.

This new approach makes sense when we consider that for some time to come we’ll need to continue social distancing.  Being given the option to work flexibly from different locations enables this, and also means that people don’t have to risk their health on the overcrowded trains and busses that commute us into the major cities.

Companies with greater flexibility and foresight are already looking into what they can do for their staff when they work at home.  Some of the larger companies are giving staff generous grants to buy equipment for their home offices, as much of their workforce will work remotely for the foreseeable.  For example Facebook employees were given $1000 to cover home office equipment AND childcare.  Shopify and Twitter and Basecamp have followed suit.

It may be useful for you or your employer in the UK to know that for the tax year 2020/21 you can claim £6 per week tax free for running a business or working for a business from home.  This can be included as an allowable expense alongside anything else you are claiming, and you don’t pay tax on this through your Self Assessment.

So aside from the laptops and chairs and tax breaks, what else can we replicate at home to bring us the perks and treats of office life?  Well there are companies like Vested Digital who create packages of benefits for their staff like health packages which include health insurance and gym memberships, or retail packages which give people discounts on retail, shops, theatre, cafes, days out with the family (when they happen again).   To sit alongside these types of packages Art in Offices has launched a print subscription offering to address this need, which allows companies to rent art for their staff at home, to enrich their space.  Other companies will follow suit soon so that you can rent plants and get snack boxes of treats at home too.

So we may be leaving the traditional office life behind – what the Parisians call “Metro, Boulot, Dodo” (roughly translated as commute, work, sleep or “live to work”), and moving out of the formal office space, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up the benefits and community that came with it.