For decades companies have used large, symbolic offices to sign post their operations.  In 2020 following the Covid 19 pandemic these huge multi-storey Offices based centrally in major Cities are at threat.  The key current challenges are safety and accessibility and these factors will dictate the location and scale of future workspaces.
The public transport infrastructure required to support rush hours isn’t currently sufficient in many urban conurbations, whilst commuting times would be multiplied if everyone tried to return to their offices in August.  There is also the challenge of making high rise buildings compliant for health and safety audits when there are capacities on lift numbers.  This all combines to cause a major headache to companies attempting to promote teamwork and keep their team motivated.  Large corporates are now forecasting big changes with the Natwest CEO Alison Rose championing home working in association with a “hybrid model of still needing offices and space to bring people together to make sure our culture stays strong.” (1)
It would be a good idea to reflect on how we got to this position in commercial real estate.  Companies have historically chosen locations for a base according to accessibility and access to talent. Financial incentives and client locations would also have a strong impact.  It could be a reductive statement however companies also cluster with other like-minded and complimentary businesses.  The banking capital is established in London whilst Manchester has a reputation for Insurance and increasingly medical technology companies.
Greater demand for limited City land creates higher rents and fuels the ambition to have the highest skyscraper as your headquarters.  The mantra is to ‘Be bigger’ than your competitors to establish dominance in the market.  In this blog I’m not going to comment on the ethicacy of this practice however I will be bold enough to suggest that this land grab is going to end.  Companies with too much space will feel the pinch and need to re-think their approach to workspace for their employees.
Here are three recommendations for businesses who want to thrive in the next 18 months.
A future facing company should invest in cloud based systems, IT solutions and empower their workforce by offering flexible working conditions.  Workers need the software and lap tops to allow them to work as effectively at home as they would in an office.
Enable a mix of work venues 
The working environment should be a mixture of home and a local, regional office.  A corporate membership package at a suburban coworking space would offer the flexibility that employees now favour and would reduce the strain on the infrastructure in the Cities.  By reducing the floorplate of the ‘marquee’ office companies can invest in more tailored solutions to workers and help keep their teams happy.
Be open to a disparate team 
Regional offices will allow companies to recruit from a more diverse geographical area.   When this option is combined with truly flexible, agile working patterns the result will be a happier workforce.  This will offer employers the pick of the most talented workers.  If overlooked talent will likely move to more progressive companies who can better suit their work / life choices.
This logic reverses the brain drain that many regions have seen over the decades as brilliant young people felt the need to travel to London to find success.  This pull is universal and can be applied across continents.   In the future this will not be a necessity as many focus on quality of life above a salary.  Many will be able to achieve success in both fields and then I believe we will be far happier as a society in general.
(1) The Guardian – Return to Work July 20