What will the post-Covid-19 office landscape look like?
Covid-19 has abruptly brought about the end of many trends in office design, build and usage that had dominated for most of the 21st century. During the previous two decades, office space had been at a premium with high-value investments transforming areas of our larger cities. Even after the 2008 financial crisis, office building projects soon recovered.
The Covid-19 pandemic has left offices empty and the future of many new developments has been brought into question. As we move into the ‘recovery phase’ following the pandemic many people are asking whether or not a return to the pre-Covid-19 normal is really possible or even desirable.
Changing attitudes on the use of the office
Accepted conventions regarding office space use have been radically challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic. Homeworking, which had once been seen as a minority practice, has become the norm with many, particularly mid-career and older professionals finding it gives them a better work-life balance. Some employers have seen a resulting improvement in productivity.
At the same time, younger workers have been less likely to find home working conducive. Many may have housing situations that don’t easily lend themselves to working from home, and others miss the social aspects of office life. As a younger career professional, the importance of face to face networking cannot be overstated.
So while home working looks like it’s here to stay and will in all likelihood play a part in the careers’ of an increasing proportion of the working population, it’s unlikely to completely displace the office.
Fewer offices but with larger floor space per person
Large scale office developments of the kind we’ve witnessed over the previous two decades are much less likely to happen as changes in working practices combine with ongoing concerns about the current and possible future pandemics.
Offices layouts will allow for social distancing and a different pattern of use. Flexible working and a reduced in-office workforce will mean that intensely populated open-plan offices are likely to become a thing of the past.
Central hub style layouts are being developed. These allow for agile, flexible, multi-purpose use with breakout points that facilitate collaboration while still allowing for greater social distancing.
Other layouts are being experimented with that don’t reject the open-plan office style altogether but allow for the space to be used less intensively. One way systems look as if they are here to stay.
The last few decades have seen an increasing centralisation of office space into the larger cities with increasing numbers of people commuting from smaller towns and rural areas. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of this model.
Expect a move back towards smaller, dispersed offices in different locations. Companies may be able to take advantage of cheaper rents in small towns and rural communities, with many large scale city office developments being given over to other uses such as housing.
At the moment we are in a transition phase where it seems unlikely that a full return to pre-Covid business as usual seems unlikely, but a more detailed future remains unclear.