Are today's office blocks the apartment blocks of tomorrow?

The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has fuelled a seismic shift that will alter our perceptions of how and why we use offices and workspaces for years to come.

On 6th July 2020, Fujitsu Ltd. of Japan announced that it would halve its office space within the next three years as it rewrites the way employees work under a “new normal” amid the coronavirus pandemic. The IT solutions company said that its 80,000 employees in Japan would begin to work flexible hours and that working from home would become the standard wherever possible.

Whilst some employees are craving the office environment, they have also experienced the benefits of more time at home and now have new demands around flexibility. Companies, meanwhile, are juggling the opportunity to reduce overheads by leasing less space in the city, with the nervousness of encouraging staff to stay away from the office.

‘Normal’ will continue to change over the next few years and we will need to be prepared to work from the office, from home or from anywhere else based on the environmental, company and employee needs of the time.

The Daily Telegraph reported on 2nd May 2020 that a string of major employers have learned that mass remote working is easier than first thought and that they are already preparing to cut costs by reducing their office estates. Barclays, WPP, AstraZeneca, St James’s Place, Next and Vodafone are all currently exploring changes to their current working practices.

In the past, for example, a monthly company sales meeting would have required all of the sales staff to make their way across the length and breadth of the country to appear in person at the company HQ (or other such venue). This, undoubtedly, would have required the booking of hotel rooms for at least one overnight stay for multiple employees, as they are normally located too far from the company HQ to make it back and forth on the same day. Since the pandemic, these meetings must have been forced to continue to take place online in virtual meeting rooms, so having proved that it is possible to continue to have those meetings in a virtual environment why would anyone go back to the old ways? Why would companies not use this opportunity to reduce the company’s costs and help their employees to make more sales by reducing the time that they need to take out of their normal day-to-day tasks?

Another example to consider are Banks, which have extensive branch networks across the country. As society in general moves away from the need to use bank branches, one alternative for their use could be to turn the branches into office hubs where safe face-to-face meetings can be arranged between colleagues who, for the most part, are working from home. This reduces the need for large office blocks and reduces overall costs. An office hub could also be used for demonstrations, showcases, or collaborations with customers.

With large corporations now giving these ideas serious consideration, one has to ask what will happen to the office blocks of today that will, for the most part, become empty? Will they become the inner city apartment blocks of tomorrow and perhaps continue to give life to those small sandwich shops, cafes and other take-out food stops that rely so heavily on office workers? One thing is certain; remote working is here to stay and business and employees alike will need to adapt to the changing world around them.


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